The Birdman of Brentwood

Archive Author

Peter Curro built an avian environment to house exotic friends from Africa, Australia, South America and beyond; he is one of a select but active group within the state that may legally collect and trade unusual birds.

At the end of a rough, muddy lane not far from the Exeter River, his home backed by woods, resides Peter Curro, the Birdman of Brentwood.

Curro is a rugged, thoughtful, independent man who wears well the dark good looks inherited from his Sicilian ancestors. He is a self-employed businessman licensed by the state of New Hampshire to remove potentially hazardous underground fuel tanks and to install new "safe" double-walled tanks.

Dressed in outdoor attire, the aroma of fuel oil swirling about him, one might not suspect that beneath this hardworking exterior beats a tender, compassionate heart that loves and adores our feathered friends of the bird kingdom.

Curro, who says he has always loved birds, has built an avian environment to house many rare birds within his home, as well as in a large greenhouse and barn on his property. The space is shared by exotic, fancy birds native to such lands as Africa, Australia, South America and northern coasts. Permitted by both New Hampshire Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (migratory species), Curro is one of a select but active group within the state that may legally collect and trade unusual birds.

Says Curro, "For years I looked at encyclopedias with hundreds of pictures of birds and when the Internet came along, I went bananas." Each day Curro heads out to earn his livelihood, but his thoughts are of birds. "I think about them all day and can't wait to get home to them," he says.

"I love having them. I can't explain it."

Curro says there is always something new to observe — signs of mating, feather down, the building of a nest, eggs, the hatching of offspring.

Arriving at his abode, Curro is greeted by his boisterous, energetic pal, a buff-colored 2-year-old English bulldog named Lili. The precocious canine exhibits some jealousy of Curro's newest arrivals, two Eclectus parrots, a species native to Australia and Indonesia. After just a week in residence the duo has developed a penchant for Lil's dog biscuits, much to Lili's disapproval.

The parrots' mistress had become very ill. Her husband, busy between work and caring for her, had not been able to provide the attention the parrots were accustomed to, such as perching on the couch each day to watch TV with their owner.

The birds had become confused and lonely and began self-mutilating. The man sought Curro's help and he was quick to provide rehab. Curro built a 10 by 10 foot, floor to ceiling enclosure for the parrots in his living room.

Here, Tarzan, a male with a bright green head and candy corn beak and India, a female with a vivid red head, their bodies denuded of feathers, curiously follow Curro as he points out features of their dwelling. It is constructed of wire and trees from the property and outfitted with branch perches, hanging ropes, large living plants, a bird bath, a fruit bowl and special food shipped from California.

The birds' psyches are on the mend.

Curro and Lili next lead the way to the second level, where the fancy finches reside — European, Society and Java finches — gregarious birds with room to fly, some in nesting baskets. Their companions are peach and creamsicle-colored canaries, which Curro says he keeps because they are his mother's favorites.

Scurrying about the enclosure are curious looking Chinese button quail, no larger than a dollar bill.

Across the aisle are two spectacular looking but shy hornbills, native to Africa. The hornbills have an outside area in which to spend the daylight hours once the weather warms.

Curro learned early on that he must be watchful for predators. Being near the river and the woods his first greenhouse was breached by a mink that killed several birds by sucking the blood from their chests and necks. Curro promptly installed a protective electric barrier around the perimeter of the greenhouse to foil future plans of any furry marauders, including fisher he has seen in the area.

The greenhouse is Curro's masterpiece! Upon entry one is greeted by two spectacular gray crown cranes, native to the dry Savannah of Africa south of the Sahara Desert, and Uganda's national bird. They are so beautiful it is hard to move past them. Deftly wielding a plateful of live crickets, Curro has the 3-foot tall cranes' full attention.

Curro says "it is all about natural and fresh foods, safe and edible plants." The greenhouse is a tropical paradise of such edibles as banana and fig plants. Cruising up one of the lagoons, wings raised in protective posture, is a lustrous Australian black swan, most social of swans and important to Australian Aborigines' dream time stories. Beyond him, his mate is nestled next to four cygnets with soft gray plumage. Curro received the adult swans from a friend who had them for five years without the pair producing offspring.

Within the natural landscape, soft pools, gentle sounds cascading down the stone waterfall and tropical vegetation, love bloomed. This is the swans' second brood, says Curro. "The swan parents are 80 percent better than most human parents," he says.

"They raise their wings into a V shape, make a wall with them, and like totally protect their babies." They protect them in this fashion as they lead their young to the water, their bodies protecting them from anyone and everything, he says.

Swimming in the pools, winding past tropical plants, is a bevvy of saltwater common eider ducks and socially sharing their space, hooded mergansers.

Curro received the eiders from Connecticut. The eggs were legally gathered off the coast of Maine. Curro says these eiders are the "F1" or first generation.

Slipping in and out from behind the waterfall are two skittish birds. They are two eye-catching great curassows, found in Mexico and Central America. They are tending two eggs in a hidden nest, the black male with a bright yellow waddle, keeping patrol.

Out in Curro's two story barn is a flock of millifleur (small flower in French) bantams. The millifleur are actively scurrying about, the black-spotted soft hues of browns and creams absorbing the streaks of sunlight.

While the permit cost for keeping his birds is nominal, other costs of Curro's avian adventures are expensive. The electric bill alone has been running $300 a month to keep the greenhouse at a comfortable 66 degrees for the winter.

Wildlife permits

Curro is grateful to N.H. Fish and Game for offering him assistance and expertise. He lavishes praise on Lt. Bruce Bonenfant, who he says has been especially nice and helpful.

"That's me, Mr. Helpful," quips Bonenfant, speaking from his Concord office. Bonenfant is a 22-year veteran with N.H. Fish and Game. For the past 10 years he has been in charge of wildlife permitting. His official title is Administrative Lt. Bonenfant. "Much of my job is answering questions and educating the public," says Bonenfant.

Each week he fields questions from citizens about wildlife ranging from hybrid cats, elk, bison and red deer to waterfowl, terrapins, snakes, primates and all types of mammalian. With the Internet, says Bonenfant, people have access to almost anything. He told of a woman a year ago who called to ask him about bringing a baby monkey into the state. Online, she had found a missionary teacher in Africa who sent students out to catch baby monkeys after class. The monkey was almost on the way here, says Bonenfant, though he adds that it most likely would have been stopped at Logan Airport when it arrived.

According to Bonenfant, the state charges a permit fee of $20 per calendar year to possess indigenous wildlife and $30 if the owner will be propagating the species. If the species is migratory, a permit is needed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well. This is also true for those who wish to possess a threatened or endangered species.

One exception is a hybrid wolf. Bonenfant explained that in the 1980s when there was a lot of interest in owning the animals, special legislation placed them under the State Department of Agriculture and locally enforced domestic dog laws. This includes hybrids that are 98 percent wolf and 2 percent husky. Bonenfant says owners must sign a waiver that states rabies vaccines are unproven in wolves. The animals must be kept enclosed and leashed at all times.

According to Bonenfant, the wildlife permits allow conservation officers to inspect the premises, arriving unannounced to check that species have adequate space for their needs. From his days on patrol Bonenfant recalled other bird fanciers, including a hobbyist from Lee who raised whooping cranes for re-establishment purposes. He used surrogate sand hill cranes as parents.

Bonenfant says hobbyists like Peter Curro trade their birds back and forth. He said Curro is the first he knows of to have common eiders in New Hampshire. A saline permit is also needed for this species.

Perhaps Curro does not connect the dinosaur component of the fossil fuel in the tanks he pulls to its descendency from the birds he harbors in his home.

It matters little to Curro, the rugged outdoorsman who is simply content to love his charges and be as attentive as a mother hen to their needs.