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A Basement Zoo

Peacocks, budgies, chickens, and a tortoise—it’s a real-life wild kingdom underneath this suburban home.

A flock of tennis-ball-size button quails scampers around the basement of Marty Dunne’s sprawling gray-green stucco house in west suburban La Grange. “You have to have button quails,” he says. “They eat all the bad stuff.” Specifically, the bugs in the hay that pads the floor. These diminutive housekeepers are only part of Dunne’s subterranean menagerie, which includes 26 species of birds, two long-haired rabbits, more than a dozen turtles, and a hairless guinea pig named Dave. Dunne, a corporate sales and marketing executive, built an aviary 13 years ago for just three birds. “I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice if they shared a water dish?” Now more than a hundred creatures inhabit the corrugated-tin-lined space. (The metal is no accident: In the early days, a couple of giant tortoises tore through the drywall and made a break for it.) Dunne says his animals bring him endless joy, but what about the house’s other human inhabitants? “My wife hates birds,” he says. “And they hate her right back.”

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