Crews remove about 445 birds from Aurora townhouse, 325 alive
Bird club takes responsibility, says living birds are in good shape
Aurora officials used a court order Friday to remove hundreds of free-flying birds from a trash-filled townhouse after the owner made virtually no progress to rectify the situation over the past week.
Aurora Deputy Fire Chief John Lehman said homeowner Dave Skeberdis, 57, removed only small amounts of debris from the front door and failed to cage most of the roughly 300 birds inside his townhouse on the 200 block of Shadybrook Lane.
The stairwells leading to the second floor and basement remained filled with roughly three feet of garbage, bird feed and bird feces, making it difficult for cleaning crews wearing protective gear to access the areas, Lehman said.
Skeberdis said he can't afford to pay the estimated $13,000 bill for a city-hired contractor to clean the house.
The city obtained the court order late Wednesday to launch the cleanup at 10 a.m. Friday. Skeberdis left his home voluntarily with police, who said he did not want to be on site during the work.
Contractors removed roughly 325 birds within about six hours Friday. The birds were handed off to the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club through an arrangement with Aurora Animal Control and Care.
Officials said the majority of the birds -- 257 -- were discovered nesting in the rafters and walls of the house's unfinished basement. Another 40 birds were discovered on the home's second floor, and 28 on the first floor.
Crews also removed 120 dead birds from the house, and they were given to Aurora Animal Control for proper disposal.
Several members of the 150-member club were outside the home throughout the day, advising contractors on how to catch the birds. Nearly all the birds were flying free or roosting in the house, Lehman said.
Club members were barred from entering the home, which air-quality tests this week showed has mold counts up to 15 times above normal.
Crews Friday hung a black tarp over the front porch to prevent birds and dust from flying out.
Once the birds were captured, club members took them to a temporary storefront shelter they rented at 19 W. Park Blvd. in Villa Park. A veterinarian is assessing them and members are working to rehabilitate the birds during a 30- to 60-day quarantine.
Club President Barbara Morris said the birds appeared to be in very good condition and nearly all should survive the transition, although the quarantine is still necessary due to the mold.
"Diseases can manifest, since birds are susceptible just like humans," Morris said. "But they still were his babies and he obviously did spend a great deal of time feeding them and giving them water."
The group will accept donations throughout the weekend at the Villa Park site of food for finches, conures, parakeets, cockatiels, button quail and diamond doves -- many of the species found in Skeberdis' home. The group also seeks cash donations at its website, gccbc.org, to defray the cost of quarantine rental space that will cost roughly $1,000 per month, veterinary care, cleaning and pet supplies.
"Our resources are being pushed to the limit," Morris said. The group will not seek reimbursement from Skeberdis.
The bird club also agreed to foster up to eight conures for Skeberdis "until such time as he is able to take those back," Morris said.
Skeberdis now has 14 days to clean the garbage and debris from his home. Aurora officials will conduct a property standards inspection Nov. 2. If it is not in good shape, they can return Nov. 7 and take over cleanup under the court order.
Police began investigating last Wednesday when a painting contractor saw dead birds through the home's windows.
The home was without electricity and Skeberdis later said that was why he was unable to spot several dead and decaying birds.
By Oct. 19, Kane County officials issued a search warrant and police discovered the birds and trash.
"I think it's amazing neighbors weren't aware of this problem at all," Lehman said.
Skeberdis initially cooperated with city officials until he saw the potential cleanup bill. Then he barred officials from his property, forcing Aurora to seek an order from Kane County Court on Wednesday to take over the project.
"It got out of control. I realize that now," Skeberdis said this week.
On Friday, workers from Restoration Techs Inc., the cleaning company, confirmed electricity and heat are now working in the house.
Lehman was vague on what the total price tag for the cleanup will be and who will shoulder the cost.
"It's not the position of the city to bear that burden, necessarily," he said. "Right now the most important thing is to secure the health of the neighborhood. ... Then we'll settle up the cost."
Skeberdis said his collection started more than seven years ago when he rescued a wild parakeet. He added more parakeets, which he said "breed like mice," and he has been collecting birds ever since.
Skeberdis, who has never married and has no children, said his pets are "almost like children."
Skeberdis is living at a hotel that allows long-term stays in Lisle. City officials said the DuPage County Health Department has reached out to Skeberdis to offer counseling and other behavioral health services.
In addition to obtaining the court order, Aurora officials on Wednesday declared the property a nuisance and cited the property with two maintenance code violations, as well as for violations involving four sections of the city's ordinance dealing with care and control of animals.
Lehman said officials will use such ordinances to ensure the house remains safe once the cleanup is complete.
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.