Crystal Gibbons of Squark Aviaries in Channon St with her very special mate Harold, the featherduster budgie.
Crystal Gibbons of Squark Aviaries in Channon St with her very special mate Harold, the featherduster budgie. Renee Albrecht

'I tawt I taw a... what the hell is that???'

HAROLD the budgerigar is one in a million or more.

But as he holds court at Gympie's Squawk Aviaries in Channon St, he seems almost bored by his outstanding success as a living feather duster.

Harold is accustomed to getting more than his fair share of attention.

Every day he spends an hour or more being bathed and groomed, as is befitting for a bird so rare.

But all that attention is not just a luxury for Harold. It is a survival necessity.

The problem is that birds of Harold's particular feather do not generally stick together, because so few of them survive.

They literally and sadly are budgie one day, feather duster the next.

Squawk Aviaries owner Crystal Gibbons says her mum, Tracey Shipsey, does most of the extra caring that birds like Harold need.

"Harold is a rare feather duster budgie," she says.

"They generally only live 12 months and need extreme care.

"Their feathers just keep growing and can become matted and infected and if you don't keep them trimmed around the eyes, they can become ingrown and cause blindness.

"Most go blind because the feathers grow into their eyes.

"They eat an enormous amount of food to keep up with what they need to grow their feathers and they are often tired.

"They get a tremendous burst of energy after they eat and run around like mad.

"And then they run out and just fall over exhausted.

"We've had people come in and think he's dead," she said.

"Harold is 15 months old and is still able to see and play with his ball.

"We're really happy about that," she said.

The website Budgies are Awesome tells the story of an American-bred feather duster budgie called Whipper.

The syndrome is caused by a rare genetic mutation.

It seems only two budgies with the right recessive gene can produce feather duster offspring and it can only be passed on if both the parents have it.

The huge physical demand from growing all those feathers often impairs the birds' physical growth and wears them out, literally, giving them a short lifespan.

As the website puts it, "The reason for the short lifespan seems to be that the bird cannot get enough nourishment to support the constant feather growth, while also keeping the rest of its body alive."

They virtually starve to death and suffer from exhaustion.

Many have trouble perching, climbing, preening and flying and can suffer severe muscle wasting.

For those reasons, world famous Whipper died recently.

So poor old Harold needs all the love and attention Crystal and her mum can give him.

"He's a bit of a different budgie alright," Crystal said yesterday. "We're happy to look after him while he's alert and alive," she said,

Luckily, he has such caring owners.

Gympie Times

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