Sunday, July 14, 2002

Sue Bellisle has been taking in birds for the last nine years. The collection in her Lanikai yard includes 50 chickens, 14 ducks, a turkey and nearly 100 pigeons. Michelle Medeiros, left, stood behind her Tuesday.

Ailing birds find
nests of support

A loose network of "bird ladies"
take in feathered friends and
nurse them to health

By Mary Vorsino

A one-legged pigeon hops onto the television set and a one-winged sparrow perches on a ceiling fan in Linda Leeven's Waikiki studio apartment while she says she'd rather give up her home than part with the dozens of helpless birds in her care.

Leeven is being asked to get the birds out of her apartment, which she has owned for nine years, or face fines or possible eviction.

But the 38-year-old part-time social worker says giving up her ailing companions is not an option. Instead, she is looking for a new home -- a larger apartment or even a home with a yard, which will make a better home for her and her flock.

"Their lives are so valuable to me. ... All they need is a big space," she said, adding that she is not contesting the no-pets rule at her apartment building or holding a grudge against building management.

Linda Leeven faces possible eviction or fines for keeping dozens of helpless birds in her Waikiki studio apartment. Leeven tended to dove Gumby on Tuesday.

She knew about the no-pet policy before she moved in, she said. And she realizes that birdseed on her lanai was attracting unwanted birds to neighboring balconies.

Leeven's devotion to her birds is typical among a loose network of about 10 self-deemed "bird ladies" of Oahu, said Andrea Nandoskar, a member of the network. The women take in sick and injured birds, often making sacrifices to provide shelter, food and medical aid for the birds.

Nandoskar said the network is helping to find Leeven an apartment and looking for volunteers to take in some of her birds.

Eventually, Nandoskar hopes to form a nonprofit organization with the caretakers and establish a rehabilitation center so the bird lovers will not need to house the birds in their own homes.

The women's birds come from the Hawaiian Humane Society or others who discover wild birds needing care.

Eve Holt, spokeswoman for the humane society, said the society accepts domesticated birds, while Sea Life Park cares for injured seabirds.

Leeven said she was a "dog and cat person" until she picked up a sick pigeon in Chinatown five years ago.

"I wasn't into birds. (But) once you're inside the bird world, you get connected to them," said Leeven, who spends six to eight hours a day caring for her birds.

"I have to say it's pretty overwhelming. I don't have as much freedom. I can't hop away for the weekend," Leeven said.

Norna Hamamoto, a 54-year-old Mililani resident, has been a bird caretaker for about 10 years and estimates the bird population in her home at a little over 60. She releases birds that are healthy enough to survive on their own.

"I think they add so much to our planet. I enjoy them so much," Hamamoto said.

Caring for the birds is a seven-day-a-week job -- from 6 a.m. to past 2 a.m. -- that does not allow for vacations, she said.

"The only time I go out" is for doctor appointments, she said. And once, she even carried an ailing baby bird in her purse to the doctor with her so it would not die while she was gone.

Sue Bellisle, another member of the network, said she has received birds from all over the island and from all kinds of people. She has been taking in birds for nine years.

Bellisle's collection in her Lanikai yard includes 50 chickens, 14 ducks and one turkey, all of which she suspects were novelty pets that were abandoned when too big. She also has nearly 100 pigeons, which are kept in aviaries and cages on her property.

"We give every bird that comes to our doorstep a chance ... and it adds up," Bellisle said, adding that the bird caregivers pay for most of the expenses.

Some veterinarians offer free service to the network, but the medical bills still can be more than $3,000 to $4,000 a year, Bellisle said.

For more information about the network or to be a bird caretaker, call Nandoskar at 923-2697 or e-mail her at

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