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Birdman of Guilford started with one beauty


Follow the hand-lettered signs from Sherwood Gardens along Greenway, and you might find Ed Johnston in front of his large brick home carrying a big blue macaw on his shoulder.

This is Margaret, he tells visitors.

"Come on, sweetheart," he coos, as he rubs her side and kisses her on the beak. "That's a good bird."

Margaret is Mr. Johnston's prize bird. She's the one he brings into the yard to perch on children's shoulders so their parents can take pictures.

Inside a glassed porch are the rest of Mr. Johnston's birds. He loves to tell people about them.

Thunder, an Amazon parrot, is in a cage. Flying freely around the porch are a half dozen ring-necked doves and 17 or 18 cockateels, he says.

Not so, says his wife, Mary Frances, leaving her game of gin rummy in the TV room to count the birds on the porch.

There are about 35 cockateels now, she says.

"I've never been able to teach them birth control," her husband says sheepishly.

Anyway, Mr. Johnston jokes, this is all his wife's fault.

He used to call her "Bird," although he says he can't remember exactly why.

It probably stemmed from his calling her, "Love Bird," he says.

She hears this and, with that expression of utter disbelief wives reserve for their husbands, says no, it stemmed from his calling her "Bird Brain."

Anyway, it became "Bird." And so, on Mr. Johnston's 50th birthday, his wife gave him one.

"Isn't this cute?"

"I saw this cockateel, and I said, 'Isn't this cute?' " she recalls.

That was in 1974.

Soon afterward Mr. Johnston bought a second cockateel. You can guess what happened next.

"What you see out here is the progeny of that original pair of cockateels," he says.

"I guess you'd say this is the fourth generation."

Cockateels are small parrots with regal plumes on their head.

They hide their eggs under the porch radiators, and Mr. Johnston doesn't have the heart, even when he finds one, to throw it out.

Eager to share his fondness for the birds, Mr. Johnston puts up signs leading from the glorious display of tulips in Sherwood Gardens in the Guilford section of Baltimore.

The lettering beckons: "Come See My Birds."

He began directing people to his aviary about five years ago. He pounds the signs into the ground in April and leaves them until May -- as long as the tulips are in bloom.

In the spring, people come from all over to see Sherwood Gardens -- six immaculate acres of tulip beds and flowering trees and bushes.

Owned by the Guilford Association, which represents home owners in the area, the 80,000 tulips are a splash of Holland in the middle of one of Baltimore's wealthiest neighborhoods.

Mr. Johnston, a friendly sort, turns 68 on May 20. But he is far from retired.

He owns two companies in Timonium: Membership Management Inc., which provides a variety of services to businesses, such as keeping track of membership lists and furnishing mailing lists, and Forecast Research Systems Inc., which forecasts the commodities and stock markets, among others.

You will remember Margaret

He remains active in both companies.

And he is working on a doctorate in business administration and management.

He even jogs on the track at the Johns Hopkins University.

If you've seen him, you will remember. Margaret perches on his shoulder.

The macaw is 4 years old. Mr. Johnston bought her from a breeder when she was a few months old.

"You're looking at the fourth most intelligent animal," he tells his steady stream of visitors.

Humans top the list, he says, followed by monkeys, ocean mammals and the largest parrots, such as Margaret.

"Don't talk about horses, cats and dogs," he says. "They're so far down on the intelligence scale."

Asked what it is about the birds he likes so much, Mr. Johnston struggles to come up with an answer.

He was happy with just two birds, he says, and now he's happy with dozens.

"People ask me if it's a hobby," he says, "and I tell them, 'No, it's not a hobby. It's part of the family.' "

With that his wife, who really likes these birds -- you know she does -- steps up behind her husband and says that for his next birthday she's going to throw him a party and let it go at that.

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