March 16, 2006
Ashburn- It wasn't suppose to happen this way. Don Winter went to a bird show in Orlando, Florida for one day, 14 years ago, and the experience took flight-- literally.
He became a wild bird lover, and before long a collector of Golden Conures, with one of the largest collections in the world. Almost everyday he visits them, calling each bird by name. Some let him pet them much like a dog. Two beautiful birds per cage.
"How are you guys doing," asks Don as he feeds a pair of Golden Conures in his backyard aviary. Many of Don Winter's extended family members live behind bars.
"They get upset if they don't see me. They don't like it," says Don as he goes cage-by-cage. He doesn't like missing a visit, either, finding the emotional honesty of his Golden Conures very appealing. "They are not motivated by food like dog or a cat. They want to be with you," says Don.
The beautiful golden wing feathers with emerald colored tail feathers are unmistaken trademarks of the conures. "I have about 50," says Don.
People think the birds look the same, but Don found each one has his own, distinctive personality. "Recognize them like your fellow human beings. Some are shy, outgoing and want to be around me," says Don.
He finds people and birds have a common need. "You need something positive in your day. Humans need that and birds need that," says Don.
For the birds, a mix of seeds, with the breakfast cereal Cheerios added, provides a treat. A pair finds togetherness a treat, having been inseparable for more than 20 years, longer than many human marriages last. "I'm not going to separate them," says Don, who suspects they would still live, but they wouldn't be happy with a separation, even though the male has become rather crotchety. "I can't handle him," says Don, and his mate has started emulating his less than desirable behavior.
Don becomes a dentist about once a month using a spoon as a tongue depressor and a drill to reshape their beaks. The procedure doesn't hurt the birds. They trust Don that he wouldn't hurt them.
He got attracted to the birds because of their natural beauty. "I think they are very striking, very pretty," says Don, with a relatively few left in the world. "They think about a thousand, but every year the number goes down. Personally, I don't think there are that many left. Lot of poaching going on in Brazil."
The bird doesn't help its long term survival either. For some reason, they don't reproduce well in captivity. "I've had four babies in 12 years and kept all four babies," he says.
Don and his Golden Conures flock together without having the same feathers but a beautiful bond that is more than for the birds. Don and his wife moved to Ashburn from Central Florida to have more room for their birds.