Speaking of Fowl Play, Alba Ballard Gives the Bird Even to Saturday Night Live
Alba Ballard’s parrots are dressed to kill. For Saturday Night Live, she garbed one as Count Dracula, and two others traded punches as Rocky Balboa and Muhammad Ali. Perhaps the ultimate accolade to her duded-out aviary—ranging from Madama Butterfly to Elvis Presley—was a gig last month on NBC’s Real People.
“Parrots are born performers,” declares Ballard, 51, noting that the secret of bringing out the natural thespian in an unnaturally clothed parrot is “trust.” Alba pats, hugs, kisses and talks to her winged wards, giving many of the 120 in her Huntington, L.I. home personal attention every day (it starts at 5 a.m.). “If you care for them and love them, sooner or later they will understand and will sincerely love you back,” she explains, and that is the message she takes on appearances at orphanages, veterans’ hospitals and nursing homes. “I go with my birds to make people laugh. That’s my reward.”
Crusaders against cruelty to animals have no grievance against Alba. Her 350 handmade costumes are feather-light with Velcro fasteners, and no bird is ever cloaked for more than a few minutes. In fact, veterinarians have consulted Ballard on avian care, and she herself is lobbying for more humane treatment of birds held in U.S. quarantine stations. “I have always taken care of birds,” says Ballard. Her family owned a zoo outside Milan, Italy, where she grew up, as well as a theater where she acted, danced and learned costume design. Alba married Marvin Ballard, an American electronics engineer, in 1957. They moved to the U.S. six years later, whimsically selecting their home on the basis of the wild ducks they found in the garage. Their son, Claudio, 22, plans to attend veterinary school at Cornell University next year.
Alba’s dream is to open a research facility and bird clinic, a good work already in progress. “My big pleasure,” she says, “is to get a group of children together when it’s time to say goodbye to a wounded bird they brought me. They are so happy. ‘You see,’ I say as the healed bird flies away, ‘we did a beautiful thing.’ ”