Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Personal Space

Story Jan Swoope | Photograph Luisa Porter

Celeta Holzhauer’s personal space is for the birds. Big birds, little birds, chatty birds.

“It’s like a jungle — they talk to each other all the time,” she said of the nine macaws, parrots, cockatoos and cockatiels in her rainforest room. Celeta and her husband, Jim, customized it for their feathered friends during a renovation at Highland House, their circa 1902 home in Columbus. By enclosing a spacious back porch and enlisting the help of Columbus artist Bob Nolan, they created an environment dedicated to their vocal menagerie.

“Since we couldn’t take the birds back to the rain forest, we decided to try to bring a little of the rain forest to them,” said Celeta.

The ringleaders of this avian community are Ollie and Peaches. At 24, Ollie is the senior bird and the “smartest cat in the house.” The African gray parrot is a keen copy cat.

“He mimics perfectly; he can sound just like me, or Celeta, or the smoke alarm or the telephone,” laughed Jim.

Peaches has a Hurricane Katrina story. When his New Orleans family had to leave him behind, the cockatoo went to a shelter. He was adopted by a couple who were eventually stationed at Columbus Air Force Base. With the arrival of children, they had to give up the vociferous pet. Luckily for Peaches, he and Celeta had chemistry.

“If I don’t feel any chemistry when I go to meet them, they don’t come home with me,” she explained. “When we met, I asked him if he would give me a sign, and he put his little hand through the cage.”

Caring for the flock is time-consuming. Celeta is hands-on, cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables for their special diets.

“I won’t lie, they’re a lot of work,” she conceded. “But once I adopt, it’s mine. It doesn’t matter whether they live five years or 80 years. I make that commitment.”

The Holzhauers never thought the back porch would end up one of their favorite rooms at Highland House, but after its transformation, Celeta felt differently. “With the rain forest room out here, I think this house is surely smiling.”