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Birds put up for bids at state auction

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In the corner, a cockatoo was talking.

"Up! Up!" he said, which seemed like a weird preposition to repeat. A woman eating crackers said the bird can say other things. She said he can say, "I'm a pretty bird," but the cockatoo didn't cooperate, and called out, "Up! Up!"

The other birds chattered, squawked and screamed. The people milled about and muttered, examining the birds and their lists, at the avian auction on Saturday.

There were 150 birds, and 120 bidders, at the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park. They filled one end of a hall on Saturday morning, starting at 9. By 10:30, a little before the bidding began, there was a line out the door, waiting to get in to see the birds -- and the hall was filled with sounds of excited people and fowl.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture's Animal Protection Office seized these 150 birds back in June, and now, they were being auctioned off. The birds were being kept in a 16-by-16 shed, in Liberty County, without ventilation or adequate care. Agriculture officials said it was over 100 degrees in the building, and the birds didn't have enough water. They were being fed cat food, instead of fruits and vegetables, and there was mold growing in their cages.

"Our inspectors," said Arty Schronce, a Department of Agriculture spokesman, "issued violations for inadequate shelter, ventilation, food, water medical care and sanitary conditions, and for inhumane care."

The birds allegedly belonged to Diana Freeman, of Midway, a bird dealer who let her license lapse in 2003. She was fined $50,000 for the birds' treatment, but didn't show up for a July hearing on the impoundment and fine, Schronce said.

The birds were kept and cared for by the state until officials were sure they weren't diseased, and then they were sold on Saturday.

Bird dealers and pet owners crowded into the hall on Saturday morning. About 120 people had registered to bid by the time the auctioneer climbed up on the stage and started with Lot A, a collection of cockatiels.

He started with a bid of $5, someone flashed a blue card from the back, and the bidding began.

"Twenty-two-and-a-half, now five, 22-and-a-half, now five," the auctioneer said, pacing around with a cordless microphone. "Twenty-two-and-a-half, now five: Now five, now five, now five. Five, five, five. Do I hear five? Twenty-five, now 27-and-a half, 27-and-a-half, now 30. Thirty, 30, 30, 27-and-a-half, now 30."

The talking cockatoo called out, "Up! Up!"

A military macaw, a big bird with bright blue, yellow and green feathers, paced back and forth in his cage. Walking with talons stuck in the wire, he moved back and forth, every so often opening his hooked beak with a loud screech.

An umbrella cockatoo, a white bird whose eye is encircled in blue, didn't make any noise at all. Jerking his head, looking around, the bird silently raised and lowered his fanning white plume, as the auction continued.

Schronce said the auction brought in almost $24,000, money slated to reimburse the Animal Protection office for the care and feeding of the birds.