Meet a colorful cast of characters: Metro Denver Parrot Rescue
This one is for the birds
Metro Denver Parrot Rescue of Colorado Springs
Parrots are colorful and intelligent birds that have been human companions since ancient times. Parrots also are the name for a variety of creatures from the order Psittaciformes and include parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and cockatiels. These brightly feathered creatures are native throughout the southern hemisphere, but live as pets all over the world. Along with ravens, crows, jays, and magpies, parrots are highly intelligent and many can imitate human voices. Because of their beauty and smarts, they are popular pets. And where there are pets, there is a need for rescues and shelters.
Heather Tuel is Shelter Operator and Manager of Metro Denver Parrot Rescue (MDPR), which is actually located in Colorado Springs. The shelter began as a non-profit by Michelle Wolf who opened up a unique café in Colorado Springs called The Perch. It was well known because the parrots were kept in the café to hang out with patrons. The café had coffee and pastries and adopted out birds to those who qualified. As a non-profit, the bird shelter and adoptions were funded by donations, however, the café had trouble earning enough money to continue operating the café part, so Wolf and the MDPR board closed the café and reopened as just a shelter a few miles down the road.
Metro Denver Parrot Rescue takes in a variety of companion birds from large cockatiels to budgies. The birds end up at the rescue for a variety of reasons such as when the human parent dies or is too elderly to take care of the bird anymore and sometimes birds arrive because those going through financial difficulty can no longer care for them. Occasionally, Tuel says, they come by a bird that was seized from an abuse or neglect situation, but she says that is rare.
Tuel, who comes from a veterinary administration background, recently took over this role and oversaw the shelter’s move to the new location last December. She isn’t sure why it’s called Metro Denver Parrot Rescue other than the fact that they take in birds from all over the Front Range. Because of the move, it’s been a busy time for the shelter and bit stressful for the birds. Parrots are creatures of habit and new homes and situations take time getting used to. Tuel says she has seen a lot of stressful behaviors since the move.
“I worked with them for a week before moving to this facility,” she explains, “but they still were displaying that behavior as if they were in a brand new home. However, it’s a little less messy when I come in in the mornings.”
A variety of birds reside in the shelter. There are cockatoos and cockatiels, macaws, and even pigeons. Cockatoos are large white feathered birds with sharp curved beaks and are famous for the large crest of feathers they can raise above their heads when trying to impress someone. The smallest birds at the shelter are budgerigars or budgies, tiny yellow and green birds native to Australia. You may know them as parakeets.
Despite the new surroundings, it is business as usual. Tuel says they currently house 27 birds, but hopes to have two or three adopted out by the end of the month. There are also six birds in foster care. Five are in routine quarantine and one has an eye infection. All will enter the shelter when they are deemed healthy. Any adult can adopt, but they have to go through an application process. Children and teens can also adopt, but their parent or guardian as to accompany them and sign the forms. The first step is visiting the shelter to meet with Tuel.
“We look to see that [potential adopters] are taking care to go through the process,” she explains. “They're signing the liability form and washing their hands before handling the birds, not just poking their fingers in the cage or touching the birds inappropriately. We look for people paying attention to what we’re saying. If it’s a large bird, they need to read the [Standards of Care] Book.”
Large birds are the not easiest of pets.
“You can expect lots of noise, lots of mess,” warns Tuel. “Poop and pee everywhere. They’ll tear up their toys. They’ll tear up their papers. That is how they adjust to new surroundings. Some birds are cleaner than others. Some birds talk a lot and some don’t talk at all. Big birds need to come out of their cages so they don’t feel confined all the time.” It also takes a lot of patience to get to know a new bird and it is important to bond with the bird you bring into your home.
“Spending time with them and doing things with them, like letting them out of their cage, giving them nuts and treats, and just being calm talking to them,” Tuel says are ways to bond with your new bird. “If the bird is into you then they’ll come out and talk to you and let you pet them. It takes time. Even if it’s a bird you bought at a pet store, you still need to take the time to make that connection.”
Something people don’t take into account is the longevity of these creatures. The average life span of a cockatiel is 15-20 years. Cockatoos can live up 70 years! If you want to make one of these birds a companion, you need to think long term. That is why the most common way for birds to end up in shelters like MDPR is because they outlive their humans.
Tuel says all of their birds are examined by a certified veterinarian and receive once a month checkups. Birds are kept until adopted no matter how long that takes. Although she’s worked in animal care for many years, Tuel is new to birds herself.
“I’ve been reading books because this is my first bird job,” she laughs. “I worked in an animal hospital that saw mostly dogs and cats. I have a lot of animal care and managerial experience, but not a lot of bird experience.” There is one other fulltime staff member experienced in bird husbandry and she handles most of the birds’ care. Tuel handles daytime care, adoptions, and administrative duties while volunteers round out the shelter’s help.
David is one of those volunteers. He started volunteering two years ago, shortly after The Perch opened. He has rescue birds at home and his daughter recently adopted two birds from the shelter. He is there days the shelter is open to public and has a great deal of knowledge about the personalities of each bird to help adopters.
The shelter is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 AM to 6 PM. For those interested in adoption, Tuel can make appointments during other times of the week to finish the process. Most of the paperwork can even be done online.
Here are just a few of the residents I met on my visit.
Paco and Machito are two bonded male green Conures (a breed of small parrot) and enjoy playing and swinging together. They also enjoy when people talk to them and laugh at their antics. Birds that are bonded must be adopted together.
Jax is a curious and shy green female Conure. Tuel says she can also be mischievous and even escaped her cage during her first week on the job. On the fun side, Jax likes to talk.
Chaac is a blue Macaw that has been at the shelter for a while. He still has some confidence issues and has a habit of pulling his feathers out of his chest so he a few bare patches showing. Tuel says this is common in birds that are stressed and that the move may have gotten to him. She hopes he finds a home with people who can give him the attention he needs to grow more confident. She also says he makes funny Mickey Mouse noises.
Something prospective adopters should have is a cage already set up in their homes before their adopted bird comes home. The shelter does have some available for sale and has guidelines for cage sizes. For example Tuel prefers wider rather than taller cages so bird like macaws and cockatoos can spread their wings and tails naturally. Birds also need to have a sandy perch, a rope perch, and two or three toys.
Parrots make wonderful pets, but there are many things to consider before bringing one into your home. To see if you’re ready for the birds, visit Metro Denver Parrot Rescue or visit the website.
NOTE – The birds mentioned in this article may have already been adopted. Visit the website for a current list.
Metro Denver Parrot Rescue
2031 E. Bijou St., Colorado Springs, CO