The Making of an Aviculturist: Samantha's Story


When I visit various bird dubs and aviaries I always look for young people involved in aviculture. I find all too few. But sometimes I find a real aviculturist who is also really young. That's what this story is all about.

This story covers three generations.

Leslie Jennifer Gillis was raised by her parents (Morris and Vi Kyle) to love birds - exotics as well as the indigenous species around the house and in the fields. The Kyles kept assorted exotic birds including Bee Bee Parrots, Canaries, a Budgerigar, and a few other small birds.

Vi Kyle got her first first Amazon (a very sick Orange-winged) for $50 from the local K-Mart in Fresno, California in 1969. For another $25 the pet departrnent manager threw in a cage and told her that he did not think the bird would live very long. Kyle took the bird anyway - she hated to see it sick and unloved.

This story has a happy ending - actually, it is not ended yet. Kyle nursed the Amazon (now named Harvey) back to health and it has not had a sick day since. Harvey still lives with the Kyles. (As an aside, Harvey was thought to be a female but when an African Grey Parrot was added to the household, Harvey became so excited she laid eggs in the seed dish.)

None. of this was lost on young Leslie Jennifer.

Leslie was taught how to handfeed abandoned baby wild birds by her mom and grew up with a love and appreciation of birds. Her .father (Morris Kyle) feeds over lOOlbs. of wild bird seed a month and unknown amounts of peanuts and sunflower for the larger native birds and maintains


about 12 hummingbird feeders to this day. He enjoys all the migratory birds that follow the San Joaquin River - his friends call him Mr. Audubon now. During the summer months he refreshes the wild birds' drinking water throughout the day and you will never find an empty feeder. He and Samantha (his granddaughter and the main subject of this article) have been known to sit out in the back yard watching all the different birds feeding for hours at a time.

Samantha (AKA Sam) was born into a home that had many birds. Her mother, Leslie Jennifer Gillis (formerly Kyle) had finches to Amazons. Toddler Samantha was quite content to sit in the living room and watch all the finches in a flight built off the window where one can view the birds year around. She would sit there for hours. She loved the Lady Gouldians and


made friends with a Blue-capped Cordon Blue. He would flutter at the window when she was there - up and down - and Sam would watch wearing a very big smile. She said "This is my bird."

When Sam was about three years old she became very interested in helping her mother handfeed birds. Gillis would let Sam help feed the wild jays and crows being rehabilitated for release. Sam would scream with delight when they took the food from her tiny fingers. These birds, of course were fed only from necessity - to keep them from dying. All of the birds were released, of course, when they were healthy and on their own.

Occasionally a baby Cordon Blue would hatch out and need to be fed from day one. Sam watched with great interest and always offered to help. Gillis always declined.

When Sam was about four-and-ahalf years old her mother allowed her to help raise a Green Singer. Of course, Sam and the singer became pals.