Some people really are for the birds. You've heard of the Birdman of Alcatraz; now meet the Birdman of Utah County - Gary Thatcher.
Thatcher, the Payson Police Department's animal control officer, has turned a childhood hobby into a full-scale adult hobby, raising more than 10 dozen birds - including common varieties like the finch and rare varieties of parrots and other exotic birds - at his two outdoor aviaries, at 636 Tomahawk Drive.The aviaries are located in Thatcher's own back yard, a fact that ruffled a few of his wife's feathers.
"Initially, she about had a heart attack, especially when I got more and more pens and got into buying the more exotic birds. The first pair (of rarer birds) I bought were $100 apiece, and she about went through the roof."
Those birds bred in almost three weeks and hatched five babies, which quickly sold for $100 apiece, Thatcher said. "That's a pretty good turnaround, and after that my wife was really supportive. She really likes the birds."
Thatcher started raising the birds seven years ago. Though the initial costs to set up the pens were large, selling and breeding the animals has completely offset the expense, he said. However, while many other animal owners raise the birds solely for the breeding and sale purposes, Thatcher said he enjoys the challenge of trying to get the birds to breed and to make the aviaries as lovely as possible.
"Some people have their own thing, like bowling or raising and riding horses or whatever. I like raising birds because it provides a challenge, especially with the more exotic birds. This is something that I can enjoy all day long while I'm here."
Thatcher compares his rather ambitious hobby to gardening, which some have called the most popular non-physical recreational activity in the United States.
"At times we've grown tomatoes and other plants in the pens. The birds pick the bugs off the plants and actually leave them alone, and they did pretty well.
"I love having this around the house. That's some of the fun of doing this - planting flowers and plants and doing landscaping with rocks and waterfalls in some of the pens."
In fact, Thatcher tries to meticulously reproduce landscaping that is native to some of the birds to encourage them in reproduction.
"I remember when I got my pair of red-capped parrots (at the time, Thatcher had the only pair in the state) I tried for quite some time to find something to get them to breed.
"My neighbor threw out this old hollow log that I found in the garbage, and I put that in the pen with them, and the female was on eggs in five days. It's a lot of fun trying to figure out what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong."
Evidently Thatcher is doing something right, since not only Payson Police Chief James Box has started raising some birds, but Payson City Councilman Brent York and Spanish Fork Mayor Marie Huff are looking into starting the hobby as well.
"People love coming over to the house just to see all the birds," Thatcher said. "I think a lot of people have this misconception of people who raise birds just having a dirty old coop in the back. If you do it right, it doesn't have to be like that. I think my aviaries are a lovely addition to my house."