For residents of Apollo, a borough in Armstrong County 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the late John Lege and his birds were a common sight. Affectionately known as “That Guy With the Birds,” Lege rescued more than 100 of the animals during his lifetime.
“He started his rescue back in 1980,” says Kenny Sprouse, Lege’s longtime friend. “People would buy a bird and not realize how long a parrot lives and how much care they need. They’re a lot of work. And after the honeymoon sort of wears off, they’d say, ‘I can’t do this,’ so John would take the bird in.”
Birds aren’t low-maintenance pets. Some species of parrots can live for as long as 100 years, making them a life-long commitment. Parrots are loud and prone to screaming; they bite when they feel threatened, have unique nutritional needs, require extensive training and can be destructive. While little data exists, avian experts say thousands of companionable parrots are abandoned every year.
Lege started That Guy With The Birds, an educational entertainment show, to help better teach the world about the actual responsibility of owning a parrot in an effort to stem the tide of the winged creatures being abused and abandoned every day.
Fifteen years ago, Sprouse was one of the uninitiated. He’d owned parrots as a child and thought it would be a great idea to have one as a pet again.
“I bought Captain Morgan, who is an umbrella cockatoo, and I brought him home and was scared to death,” says Sprouse.
But then Sprouse met Lege, who showed him the ropes of parrot pet-care. The two became friends, and Lege hired Sprouse to work on the shows behind the scenes.
Unfortunately, last June, Lege was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He died of the disease on March 13.
“He asked if I would carry on his legacy as well as his programs and the educational portion of it,” says Sprouse. “And I agreed to it.”
Now Sprouse has taken up Lege’s mantle, performing shows for local schools, festivals, community days and pet expos. He hopes the shows will steer irresponsible owners away from buying birds.
“No matter how many times you tell someone how loud [parrots] are, how messy they are, it’s like they just don’t understand it until they experience it,” says Sprouse. “The pet store doesn’t tell you these things, and we always try to be upfront with people.”
Sprouse has also taken in 80 of Lege’s birds. The largest room in his house has been converted into an aviary, but the birds are free to roam every room of the house.
“Birds aren’t just meant to be put in a room, and you don’t see them, or you just pass by them. They need that interaction. They need that attention. We have birds in our kitchen, birds in our dining room, birds in our living rooms. Birds are our family.”
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