Duo: ‘Tropical junkies’

Register Reporter

Frenchy, an umbrella cockatoo, unscrews her cage in Dee Bombagi’s living room in LaHarpe. Frenchy has taken apart her two previous cages, Charlie Bombagi said. The Bombagis raise large tropical birds, and have a variety of cockatoos and macaws.

LAHARPE — With walls covered in tropical vines, the heat turned high and humidity levels kept up, even in winter, Dee Bombagi’s home is a color-filled paradise complete with live birds.
From a corner cage big as a small room, a blue and gold macaw screams to wake the dead, then cocks his head and says hello. From a back room, a sulfur-crested cockatoo lets loose a stream of Hebrew. Additional birds screech in their native tongues.
It’s all music to Bombagi’s ears.
“My mom and I became tropical junkies,” the 50 year old said. “We’d go to the Caribbean at least once a year.”
Dee, her husband Charlie and Dee’s mom, Barbara Pace, would spend a week in turquoise waters and dove-white sands. The Bombagis brought their three children, Jazmine, Alex and Kayla, with them, too, and for that week, they’d forget about life in Kansas, where Charlie runs Doghouse Concrete and Dee has a day care.
After her mom died about a year and a half ago, Bombagi said “I took my inheritance money and got the birds.”
With the addition of “Tatouage,” wall-sized decals that appear hand-painted, she has made her house into a replica of the tropical realm she and her mother loved so well.
“My heat goes non-stop,” Dee said. “I squirt water bottles on them twice a day,” she said of the birds. And, she has to have an air filter running 24/7, because the macaw, Lenny, is allergic to her white cockatoos.
“White birds have a lot of dander,” she noted. “They’re dusty.”
In the not-too-distance future, though, the birds will have separate quarters.
“Charlie’s building me a total bird room as soon as spring breaks,” Dee acknowledged.
“It will have Plexiglas walls between the birds,” Charlie said, so they can have more freedom without interloping on each other’s territory — Charlie plans to enclose their 20-foot by 20-foot patio entirely for the birds.

THE BOMBAGIS are relative newcomers to raising large birds — they began only two years ago, but Dee’s family had parrots in her youth, she said, so she is familiar with their exacting needs.
The couple currently have five large and three smaller parrots or cockatoos. Dee recently sold a couple of other parrots, she said.
“We’ve got too many birds,” Charlie noted. Still, they plan on acquiring a breeding pair of sulfur crested cockatoos soon.
The unusual hobby doesn’t come cheap.
“It’s costly feeding all of them,” Dee said. “This fruit food costs $55 for 17 pounds,” she said of a dry food fed to all her tropicals.
In addition, the birds get a seed mix and fresh fruits and vegetables.
And then there’s the macaw.
“Lenny eats everything,” Dee said. “He gets eggs for breakfast. He eats meat. Regardless of what we’re eating, you’d better give him some. If you sit down and don’t bring him anything, he screams until you can’t think.” He also acts as the couple’s guard dog, Dee said, screaming at anyone who comes in. (If that doesn’t intimidate visitors, the couple also has five dogs.)
Lenny was a performer in a bird show in Branson, Mo., Charlie said. “We’re constantly discovering new tricks he can do.”
He “talks up a storm” and rides a tricycle, Charlie said. But the bird burned out on show business, and was sold off at a bird auction.
“There’s a company in Parsons that has a bird sale in Yates Center twice a year,” Dee said.
But she’s willing to go farther for her birds.
Her cockatoos came from a breeder west of Wichita who hand-raised them from chicks. Unlike Lenny, they are as quiet as snails.
“Oh, they make noise,” Dee said. “They all yell twice a day, just to yell.”
The cockatoos are white as clouds, and clever enough to dismantle their cage, Charlie said. “They’ve taken apart two cages already,” he said.
And they have long, long lives. The Hebrew-speaking Monty is already 30, about half way through his 60 year expected life. The umbrella cockatoos can live to 80. Macaws typically live to 40.
“These birds are my children’s inheritance,” Dee said of the investment. “They’re my babies.”