Dale R. Thompson

By Susie Christian

Dale R. Thompson

The Arabians have a proverb which says, "He is the best orator who can turn men's ears into eyes."

How well this describes the ability with which Dale Thompson communicated with others!  I look back with so much happiness at the many Pomona Bird Marts and aviculture conventions I attended with Dale.  I tagged along just behind him, as he was stopped every few feet by an eager bird breeder or pet owner.  Every one of them had a head full of questions to ask, and it took us half a day to see a small part of the actual bird mart.  By hanging back and just listening to what Dale had to say, I too learned many things about aviculture.  Questions I never thought to ask were magically answered for me as well.

Mister Rogers often told a story about his mother instructing him to, “Look for the helpers.”

I would say that this statement sums up the essence of Dale’s life, perfectly.  Wherever he went, he had a group of interested and inquiring aviculturists flocked around him, ready with questions that only Dale seemed to be able to answer for them.  There wasn’t a species of bird he didn’t know something about, and his willingness to share what he knew was completely unselfish and enthusiastic.

My friendship with Dale began in the early 90’s, when I called him up looking to buy a pair of Vosmaeri Eclectus.  This initial phone call turned into a deep and lasting relationship that never faded.  Even in recent years, when his health was failing and we didn’t see each other often, we still kept in close touch. 

In the years to follow, I learned from Dale how to write a decent article, how to keep birds, how to raise birds, and countless other random nuggets of wisdom. His knowledge of avian photography was incredible, and I learned how to take better photos from him too.   With Dale’s guidance and help, I have been able to grasp the avicultural baton, help carry it on, and become a participant in the thrilling “relay” of birdkeeping.  Dale was always there for me, answering my questions patiently, completely filled with optimism, hope and enthusiasm.  As my most influential mentor in aviculture, I looked up to Dale for all the avian answers.  There was always a pat on the back from him and great encouragement for me.  No question I ever asked him was considered silly or not important, and he treated me like I was absolutely the very most special individual in the whole world.  But then he made everyone else feel that way too.

 A few years ago I sent some of Dale’s twenty year-old, wooden nest boxes to my friend Lisa Woodworth, in Oklahoma, to raise her Eclectus babies in.  Dale’s parents originally came from Oklahoma, and it seemed to me so appropriate that the nests with that familiar “DRT”, scrawled in magic marker on the side of each nest box, should be producing new life and completing a cycle in Oklahoma, the state of his family's origin.   So in the fine “DRT” tradition, I am here to help Lisa and other new aviculturists, if I can, with what I have learned from Dale.   Lisa views the familiar “DRT” scrawled on the sides of Dale’s nest boxes every day, and the boxes have brought her good fortune as well.  Lisa and I (as well as many other aviculturists) are privileged to have had the “DRT” influence in our lives, whether it is immediate, or one generation removed.  

As a side note, Dale’s middle name was Roger, and he really didn’t like that name at all.  But he got that mischievous twinkle in his eye when he signed anything “DRT” – sounded more like “dirt” to him, and he loved it.

Trouble is, Dale sadly died way, way too soon, and there are still hundreds of questions flying around in my mind that I’d give anything just to have another hour with him, to pick his brain about. 

Dale and I did lots and lots of writing together.  An amazing synergy took place when we brainstormed a new article, discussing the information, with so many approaches and various ways to present the material. The time I spent co writing with Dale was a gloriously rewarding part of my life.  I would scout out the books and magazines from the shelves, and do the beginning research.  This was before the inter net and Google made access to information so simple.  Dale and I would lay all the books out that contained the material we needed and search through them for hours.  Some days we would get so wrapped up in other books, we would get completely sidetracked from our immediate subject or project we were working on.  We would end up sitting in the midst of towering piles of books and magazines we had taken lengthy side trips into.  The next day or two we would get back to the subject we were researching – maybe.

I learned a most valuable lesson in the power of concentration from Dale.  He would sit down to write an article, and be able to shut the entire world out as he was working.  As he was writing here at my house, there would be pet Eclectus and Galahs whizzing by his ears and he wouldn’t even notice them he was so focused on his work.  I have even had friends come visit, and after nodding his head in greeting, Dale would go back to what he was doing, oblivious to their presence and chatter.  I am not as good as Dale was at this skill, but I am getting better.  He could just sit down absolutely cold, and produce a remarkable article every time he turned the computer on.  Without fail.  I’m still trying for that goal Dale had perfected, but having watched him do it, let me know I can concentrate long enough to write an article, complete with birds whizzing around my head and vocalizing.

Dale loved to look at great photos as much as he loved to take the pictures.  He and I would examine a group of photos, and he taught me how to pick out the very best one of the lot.  Look for composition, contrast, lighting and the “dark holes”  (heavy shadow areas) that weren’t a good thing.  Some nights we would stay up with stacks of photos, albums and books, talking until one or two in the morning about various incredible topics.  I don’t think Dale’s mind ever shut off, even when he was asleep.  Aah, if I only had recorded all those moments of conversation!    

Dale passed away on Tuesday, March 17, 2009.  He grew up in the Los Angeles area and began his career as an animal keeper, working with his beloved animals at the Los Angeles Zoo for ten years, with seven of those years spent in the bird department.  For the next forty years Dale worked with exotic animals, primarily in the avian field. 

Areas of note include the hand rearing of large softbills, and he was instrumental in establishing a breakthrough in the captive reproduction of the toucan family.  Dale was involved in seven world and/or US first breeding awards.

Dale became the Director of Avicultural Institute (AI) in 1977, which was a privately owned parrot breeding facility, located in Southern California. Over 70 species of parrots (over 6000 individuals) were successfully reared, including Macaws, Cockatoos, Amazons, Greys, Eclectus, Conures, and many more, including several endangered species.  Besides the parrots, this facility also parent reared many Keel-billed Toucans. A separate facility of AI was the largest producer of several Australian finches in the world. The research portion of this facility was multi-faceted, but primarily worked with psittacine diets and their individual nutrition needs. Two other studies were in the field of artificial incubation and hand rearing techniques. Through this facility, as one of the Directors of the International Foundation for the Conservation of Birds (IFCB), Dale participated in funding grants (over $500,000) for avian researchers and scientists around the world and assisted in the two IFCB/Delacour Symposiums in the 1980's. The research part of this faculty worked mainly with avian health issues, parrot diets and nutrition in captivity, and established parameters on correct artificial incubation requirements and hand feeding growth rates and techniques. This facility worked with the USDA (Dept. of Agriculture) on the correct use of medicated (to assist in preventing Psittacosis) pelleted diets for US and US approved quarantine stations bringing in psittacines from foreign countries.

Dale wrote numerous articles for many magazines and publications, both nationally and internationally.  He was a featured columnist and writer for Bird Talk magazine and Editor-in-Chief of the AFA's (American Federation of Aviculture) through the 1990's.  He was the English translation coordinator for Thomas Arndt's book “Parrots -Their Life in the Wild”.  Dale and I, together contributed to the Taxonomy and Identification of Subspecies sections of ABK Publication's Revised Edition of “A Guide to... Eclectus Parrots”. He also wrote two chapters on softbill husbandry in Dr. Murray Fowler's first edition book, “Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine”.

Dale gave numerous avicultural lectures, both nationally and internationally for many years.  Early in his career, he co-taught the first university class on aviculture through UCLA Extension. He also taught graduate classes through the Avian Science Dept. of UC Davis, a noted veterinarian university in Northern California.  His lecturing audiences included many local clubs, national conventions, veterinarian conferences, and avian pediatric symposiums.  Internationally, Dale did speaking engagements in the United Kingdom, Tenerife, Panama, and Australia.

Probably one of the most notable avicultural accomplishments was Dale's involvement in the establishment of Hoffman's Conure, Pyrrhura hoffmanni, in captivity.  Using sound genetic techniques, given by zoo professionals and aviculturists (Graeme Phipps of Australia being the most influential), Dale formed a Hoffman's Conure consortium which started with only 11 (6.5 pairs) birds, and reproduced them until there are now over 900 (or more) worldwide. 

Dale Thompson took many trips to observe birds and other wildlife in the rainforests of the world, traveling to New Guinea, Australia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and over 30 trips to Panama. He was also involved in many film and wildlife documentaries with a partner, George Dodge.  Some of these included sequences to a series for National Geographic and David Wolper Productions, and TV projects such as That's Incredible, Those Amazing Animals, and PBS's Wild America.

Dale moved from Canyon Country to the Fresno area in 1998, and worked at the Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo, where he was responsible for over 600 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, becoming the general curator in 1999, until 2006, when he retired.

The one parrot genus that Dale had been personally involved with most of his career was the Eclectus parrot, including several wild-caught pairs that reproduced into their 30th year. He also kept a Magna Double Yellow-headed Amazon in the family as a pet, for 30 years.

Dale is survived by his wife Katie, and four adult children and their spouses.  Two of their four children are either in aviculture or the zoo field.  Dale is also survived by eight grand-children, two brothers and a very large flock of loving friends.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Dale many times.  I miss his slightly warped sense of humour, his encouraging pats on the head, the way he made each person he was around feel like they were the most special person God ever created, and the way he could tell a story and make everyone feel like they were right there with him.  Sometimes he would tell a story more than once, but it was like hearing it new and fresh for the first time.  I think maybe he did this so we would all remember his stories long after he left us.  In my mind’s eye I still can see Dale before me, full of happy excitement, grinning from ear to ear, eyes twinkling, waving his arms and laughing, as he transported me along with him on another verbal adventure.

The “Dale stories” stories to follow are dear to my heart for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that they were written in my living room, with Dale sitting right here where I am sitting now, at my computer.  Dale spent quite a few years worth of long weekends here, producing many stories and articles with my help.  I am thrilled to share these memories with you, from a man who affected my life and creativity like no one has ever done, before or after.   It is heartwarming for we who love him to remember him in words and pictures and keep his spirit alive.




email Susie
Email Me

Copyright ©2001, Susie Christian
Photography by Susie Christian©

All Rights Reserved by respective parties. No portion of this site may be duplicated or reused in any form without the express written permission of Susie Christian