ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - There's an ordinary-looking building on St. Paul's near East Side that's home to a flock of some unordinary birds.
Outside it looks like it might be the storefront of a quiet insurance office. Inside, it's a riot of neon color normally seen only in rainforests of South America and Asia and noise you might associate with an insane asylum: shrieks, barking, whistles, knocking, raspberries, hysterical laughter.
It's called Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services, an organization that for the last five years has operated a facility in St. Paul that functions as a sort of home for wayward parrots, a Boys Town for delinquent exotic birds.
Philippe, a Moluccan Cockatoo, paints at Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services in St. Paul, Minn. on May 2. An ordinary looking office building on St. Paul’s near East Side is the home to about 80 unordinary birds cockatiels and cockatoos, parrots and macaws.
First started in 1999 as a bird rescue and adoption organization, MAARS is now strictly a sanctuary, caring for a flock of 83 birds including cockatoos, cockatiels, macaws, Quaker parrots, conures, lovebirds and lories.
Executive director Galiena Cimperman said it's a stable population.
The organization has no room to take in any more birds, and it intentionally keeps a low profile to avoid having unwanted birds dropped off on its doorstep.
The birds aren't going anywhere.
They've never been taught foraging skills, so they're not wild enough to survive in a natural environment. And many have medical problems or they're too wild - noisy, messy, aggressive, destructive, long-lived - for most to be kept in a typical home, Cimperman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The parrots of St. Paul are beautiful, intelligent, fascinating creatures, according to volunteers who care for them.
But "they're incredibly hard to live with," Cimperman said.
Parrots sold as pets haven't undergone thousands of years of domestication like a dog or a cat. They're caught in the wild or a few generations removed from the wild, Cimperman said.
They aren't easily spayed or neutered, leading to hormonal bouts of aggression and crankiness.
"They're loud," Cimperman said. She said her constant exposure to the squawks and shrieks means, "I'm probably going deaf."
"They're destructive," Cimperman said, indicating the chewed up woodwork of the MAARS office building. "Everything here is destroyed."
"I love Harpo," said University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine professor Julia Ponder of a particularly assertive Moluccan cockatoo at MAARS.
Ponder visited the sanctuary recently with a group of vet students learning bird medicine. "You couldn't pay me to take Harpo home. Love visiting him. Wouldn't have him home in a million years."
"These guys are like 3-year-olds on crack cocaine with pliers on their faces," said volunteer Tracy Larson.
"Parrots should not be pets," Cimperman said. "Wild animals shouldn't be in cages."
Mary Karlquist, president of the Minnesota Companion Bird Association, said parrots can be good pets, but potential owners need to educate themselves on how to care for them.
The birds at the St. Paul sanctuary are largely the failed results of attempts to keep them in cages, according to volunteers at the facility.
Some have been the victims of abuse, Cimperman said. "We've had birds (whose) wings have been cut as punishment," she said.
Some have lost the ability to fly.
"I don't think Louie has ever flown in his life," said volunteer Jennifer Rush of a Moluccan cockatoo.
Volunteers said the previous unsuccessful homes for birds at the St. Paul facility have included a drug house and an Alzheimer ward that each mistakenly thought a parrot might be a fun pet.
Another bird came from a frat house, fed a diet of beer and potato chips.
Some of the birds abuse themselves, plucking their own feathers out of frustration.
"They're looking for a kind of release," Cimperman said. "They're biggest curse is how smart they are. Being in captivity, and being stuck in a cage 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day, more than that for most birds, not being with their own kind. They're kind of this big ball of frustration that they don't know what to do with. They're so smart, and they try. We've failed them."
One way the sanctuary tries to mentally stimulate the birds is to try to get them to paint pictures.
Parrots are considered among the most intelligent of birds, capable of using tools.
So the MAARS volunteers occasionally offer the parrots blobs of acrylic paint, small canvases and see what they come up with by holding brushes in their beaks or claws.
At a recent painting session, the temperamental artists seemed more interested in eating the paint or chewing a paint brush handle into splinters.
But the volunteers say the birds have been able to produce dabbings that they've been able to turn into prints and greeting cards that the organization sells to raise money.
Cimperman said the organization operates on an annual budget of about $70,000 a year, mostly from private donations, and the help of about 68 volunteers.
The birds are allowed to roam around the rooms of the office building when volunteers are present. But one goal of the volunteers is try to create an enclosure that would allow them to be outdoors at least part of the time.
"If they could be outside and fly in an aviary, I'd cry," said volunteer Jennifer Belland of Vadnais Heights.
"This place pretty much saved my life, so I'd like to pass it on," Belland said.
She said she started volunteering as part of a rehabilitation process following a traumatic brain injury in 2010.
"For some reason, I could be around 50 cockatiels screaming, and I would be OK," she said. "It's loud and dirty. It's probably the best time in my entire week."