Updated: Mar 29, 2019
WRITTEN BY MAGGIE CROUCH | PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
Flyhigh rescue in Tupelo works to rehabilitate and rehome exotic birds.
Ruffled feathers desperately in need of a deep cleaning. An overgrown, curved beak that hasn’t seen proper nutrients in weeks. Yearning eyes peering out from a colorful face.
The eyes are what get Joye Cantrell every time she rescues a bird.
“The most rewarding part is the thankfulness I see when I look into their eyes,” Cantrell said. “They can be so gracious. Once they know you, they’re your family.”
Cantrell and fellow bird-lover and business partner Margie Epting have made a family out of more than a dozen birds they have rescued over the past year since they established Flyhigh Rescue in Tupelo. The birds — ranging from Moluccan cockatoos and macaws to African greys and parakeets — have come from people’s homes and various breeders.
“We’ve been helping out if people have birds that are in bad conditions,” Epting said. “Instead of just rehousing them and causing more problems with the birds, we take them in and get them healthy again.”
The rescued birds often come from places where they had poor diets or inadequate housing. Some are injured or have permanent handicaps because their previous owners didn’t know how to properly care for them.
“They’re so intelligent and people don’t realize that,” Cantrell said. “Most of these rescues have never even been to the vet before so I’m lucky that I have a good one nearby.”
Cantrell takes the birds to Emerson Animal Hospital in West Point upon rescue to ensure that they get healthy quickly with veterinary remedies ranging from laser treatment to medicines that promote growth for their feathers.
Each rescued bird has a distinct personality, according to Cantrell.
“They will look at you and figure out your personality,” Cantrell said. “They’ll figure out if they can play with you and how to tease you, and as they get better and become more comfortable around you, their personalities come out even more.”
Once the recovery and rehabilitation process is underway, the most important thing for Cantrell and Epting is providing the birds with loving care and a new home where they can continue to get better.
“I don’t care if I had one hundred birds, I would take care of all of them,” Cantrell said. “If I can help, I’m going to do it as best as I can.”
One bird, known as Oliver, was rescued from a breeder and was near death when Cantrell found him.
“It was so hard to get Oliver out of his situation,” Epting said. “There were two big birds in a cage meant for a parakeet, and the other one was pecking him to death. They were both very malnourished, but Joye’s been working wonders on Oliver. The greatest part has been seeing him come back to life.”
Oliver is just one success story that Cantrell and Epting hope to continue to make happen at Flyhigh Rescue. Going forward, they also plan to educate people about the responsibility of caring for exotic birds to prevent the cycle from continuing.
Their goal is to stop the cycle that causes these birds to be put in such dangerous and life-threatening situations, not only by rescuing and rehabbing them but also by educating bird owners and people who are considering purchasing them.
“It’s like getting a puppy for Christmas,” Epting said. “People get so caught up in the excitement of a new pet that they sometimes don’t understand these birds are going to poop on you and need more than sunflower seeds in their diets. Most people don’t do the research before buying a bird so it’s teaching them what to do that’s important.
“We’re working on having a place where people can come in and interact with the birds so they can see what that’s like before committing to buying one of their own. It’s all about not changing the behavior of the bird, but rather changing the behavior of the human who is interacting with the bird.”
Epting also believes that increasing involvement will allow people to appreciate the birds even more.
“We want to get more people involved in the recovery process,” Epting said. “Getting local volunteers who are willing to put in the time and build that bond with a specific bird will hopefully lead them to take the bird home one day.”
For more information on Flyhigh Rescue, visit facebook.com/flyhighrescue.