Birds—A Family Passion

WORDS BY PRUE AMMENHAUSER


Prue with her sister

Circumstances have prevented me from entering ABK’s Young BirdKeeper competition for the past couple of years, however I have still felt the need to relate my story of bird adventures with my late dad—Garry Ammenhauser—whom some of you may have known through the bird world.

Up until 31st October, 2005 I had the privilege of being around my mentor everyday—as a young child I would mimic everything my father did. His passions were rare fruit trees, the natural world and, particularly, birds. So I loved birds too! My parents bought me my first bird at the age of five—a featherless little skin-bag that turned out to be a Blue Budgerigar—and with dad’s help I handraised the first of many birds. By the time I was nine—after a budgie and two canaries—I had started breeding parrots. My first attempt was with a pair of African Masked Lovebirds.

My father’s collection contained a myriad of finches including siskins, Superb Blue Fairy-wrens, singers, Gouldian and other Finches, doves, Indian Ringnecks (in an assortment of colours), Quaker Parrots, lovebirds, varied lories, Red-capped Lories, a pet Rainbow Lorikeet, Plum-headed Parakeets and other Asiatics, Blue-throated, Peach-fronted, Sun, Janday, Green-cheeked and Nanday Conures, Bourke’s, Turquoisines, Eclectus and a pet Galah! We even had chooks and Indian Runner Ducks and I’m sure I’ve missed some—much to my mother’s horror the backyard was covered with aviaries!

My dad’s birds became a huge part of who I was as a person—and who I am today—so you can imagine how I felt at finding out that my mentor and best friend, my dad, was dying with mesothilioma (malignant asbestosis). 

The word ‘Strong’ in the dictionary means: ‘having great muscular or mental power, being robust, a powerful influence, or great force’—to me it simply means my dad!

Nothing fazed him and in my recollection I can count on one hand the  number of sick days he had in an entire decade of work—he used to say ‘mind over matter’ and, to me, he couldn’t have been any stronger.

Throughout 2005 my mum, dad and two-year-old nephew went back and forth from Mackay in Queensland, to Brisbane every two weeks for treatment while I stayed home to hold down the fort and look after all the birds. In May that year he stopped treatment and took all of us on a surprise trip to Singapore and Thailand. Although he had travelled to many places when he was young he had always wanted to go to Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.


Prue's family at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore

The day spent at JBP will stick in my mind for as long as I live. Even though dad was very thin and frail—and racked with pain—I had never seen him more in his element as he was there.

That day I got my own private tour of the incredible world of birds and dad was like a walking encyclopedia of facts. He passed away four months later and although it has been three years since his death the pain of it is just as raw today as it was the day he went away. Although my understanding of my father’s death isn’t clear to me, being surrounded by the birds—his passion in life—helps to bring him closer to me.

My goal is to establish myself as a species breeder of macaws. At the moment I have the last of my dad’s conures and Eclectus, which I will sell very soon and purchase my first pair of macaws.


One of Dad's Eclectus breeding cocks

I also have a big dream to maybe one day be a part of the conservation breeding project of the Spix’s Macaw.
So from great grandfather, to grandfather, to father and now to daughter, the passion for our feathered friends continues. Who knows—maybe you’ll see more from me in the future!

I would like to thank Can McMurtrie—an old friend of my dads—who has always helped me when I needed bird advice, and other breeders who have given me their time in the past few years. 
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