I visited the Gabriel Foundation outside of Denver recently. This is a spectacular parrot rescue that should serve as a role model not only for other rescues but even stores and private owners as well!
The Gabriel Foundation was started by Julie Weiss Murad over twenty years ago. The foundation is more than just a rescue. It is a parrot welfare center. They take in relinquished birds, they find homes and adopt out birds, they rescue abused birds in emergency need, and the provide lifelong sanctuary to birds that cannot be adopted to homes. But their efforts extend beyond the birds. They offer educational programs, assistance, and volunteer opportunities to people so that they could become better connected with their parrots.
I found several things extremely impressive during my brief two day visit to the Gabriel Foundation. The most noticeable thing is how incredibly clean everything is! The cages there are cleaner than those at any bird store, rescue, or even most private homes I have ever visited. And I know parrots well enough to tell you that it's not because the parrots aren't making a mess. It's the endless cleaning efforts of the staff that make this happen.
Every cage is filled with a multitude of perches and toys suitable to the parrot enclosed. Again, a better and more suitable effort than even many parrot owners in their home. The same holds for the feeding routine. They feed an extensive variety of foods on a twice daily schedule with proper portion sizing.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that none of the parrots have their wings clipped! You cannot find a store or almost any other rescue where the birds don't have their mobility hindered for the convenience of the care takers. Yet, at the Gabriel Foundation, the birds are given the chance to be birds! Off the bat this ends up solving many of the problems that the birds may have been relinquished to the rescue for in the first place. Most parrot behavioral problems come as a side effect of wing clipping and the owner's misunderstanding of how to properly keep a bird.
One more thing that the birds at the Gabriel Foundation get that most other rescue, store, and even home pet birds don't is outside time with access to direct natural sunlight. This is as important for the birds' mental well-being as it is to their physical health. I am so impressed to encounter such a large scale organization that really gets it. The Grabriel Foundation is doing things right. They are not taking any shortcuts. They are providing the birds in their care with the kind of care the bird's should really be receiving in a home. Things are almost too good to be true and begs the question, why even adopt a parrot from the Gabriel Foundation if they have it so good there?
Well, according to Julie, the parrots are better off in a home because of the greater human contact. These parrots were domestically bred and raised in homes with people. Although they might have a grand time in aviaries with other parrots of their species, ultimately, they are more comfortable in the human environment in which they were brought up. The Gabriel Foundation simply offers those birds the best possible interim solution until they can find the right home. This also frees up a space at the foundation so that another parrot in need could have the opportunity to make it through the system as well.
By setting the standards so high and so right at the Foundation, it makes it a bit challenging for adopters to meet those kind of standards. The good news is that they are not without help. The foundation goes through great lengths to educate and assist adopters as much as they require so that they could continue the wonderful legacy that the Foundation had started.
I have to say that most times I visit a parrot store or rescue, I end up leaving with a painful feeling in my gut. I get quite upset at the dark, dirty, insufficient perch, insufficient toy, clipped, and ignorant conditions that I come across. Frankly, I tend to avoid visiting stores and rescues to shield myself from the distress that they cause me over the treatment of the birds. Coming to the Gabriel, I had heard good things, but didn't really know what to expect. Incredibly, it was the exact opposite of the typical experience. I would like to encourage any parrot owners, bird store owner, breeder, or rescue staff/volunteer visiting the Denver area to pay the Gabriel Foundation a visit and learn about how good parrot care and parrots themselves can be.
Ginger's Parrots Rescue is following a similar model but on a smaller scale and specifically focused on Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels in the Phoenix area.
Here's a video tour of a portion of my visit to the Gabriel Foundation:
I try to keep my parrots outside in the aviary nearly every day from April till November. I found an acceptable temperature range to be from about 45F as the low till about 100F as the high. Anywhere from 60F-80F requires little concern. But the lower and higher temperatures require some special considerations. Here I will talk about some of the summer time things I apply to outdoor parrots.
First of all, my parrots sleep indoors at night. So they are not fully acclimatized aviary parrots. If they spent 24/7 outdoors, they would have been able to grow accustomed to the heat more gradually. The two key things to worry about in the summer are extreme heat (mainly over 90F) and shock changes in temperature (bringing parrots inside from 90F-70F). Since I don't want to make drastic changes in temperature for my parrots, I try to keep them outside all day rather than take them back inside when it gets too hot. This way it may be in the 70-80s when I take them outside and about the same when I bring them inside. This way when they switch from the hot outdoor temperatures to the cool indoor air conditioned temperatures, the change in temperature is less sudden. If I do take my parrots outside for a short time, I generally do it in the late afternoon when the temperature difference between inside and outside is less severe.
A few signs I look for overheating in my parrots are open beaks, drooped wings, and panting. It seems that this is the approximate order of severity of overheating as well. When the parrot sits with just open beak, it tells me that it is hot but nothing severe is going on. However, if the wings are drooped, overheating is imminent. And during panting overheating is already occurring. I don't let my parrots get to the panting stage when caged outdoors. However, I have seen them start panting after flying them outside in the summer which tells me to slow down a bit and give them time to cool off.
I take several precautions to keep Kili and Truman from overheating in their aviary. First of all the aviary came with a roof built into it. This keeps the sun off the birds and is a huge help. Second of all, I leave a bowl of cold water in the aviary whenever the birds are in there. If they get too hot, they always have the chance to go and drink or take a bath. Finally, on the hottest days I spray them down with a hose every few hours. This really helps them stay cool. I just continue monitoring them to make sure they are not getting too hot and when they are I just spray them down again.
The heat makes the birds more mellow so it is easier to trust them to spend all day in there together without fighting. Kili seems too hot to even bother trying to instigate Truman. And likewise Truman is too hot to go and get himself in Kili's way. I have not had a single bird fight on the very hot days but on subsequent cooler days I saw more signs that could lead to fighting (like one bird venturing into the other one's space but not yet starting to fight). So in a way I like these hot summer days for keeping the birds outside because it helps maintain the peace. They just sit there and enjoy some fresh air and sprinkle of water from time to time.
Please take extreme care not to overheat your bird outside in the summer and use suitable safety precautions. The temperature ranges I presented are what work for my parrots and may not work in other circumstances or species. Learn your parrots own tolerances by starting them outside on less hot days and continue observing them progressively as days get hotter and hotter. Here's a video of Kili and Truman in the aviary on a hot summer day:
Something is abuzz with Kili and Truman. My brother came by and flew a remote controlled helicopter past the parrots. They both started intently but held somewhat different intentions. Kili was being aggressive and defensive of her perch. She did not wish to have her space impeded by some buzzing black whirly bird. Truman on the other hand had completely different intentions. You could tell that he wanted nothing more than the opportunity to play with the toy. Nothing would please him more than to be able to shred that plastic helicopter into unrecognizable pieces.
The parrots definitely were not scared of the flying toy. They are both flighted and could fly away at any time. Instead they stood their ground and gazed with pinning eyes at their aerial competitor.
I bought some new toys and swings for the aviary and a large water bowl for the parrot's to take baths in. Truman dove right in and enjoyed a bath outside. Kili on the other hand preferred to explore the new swings. I added a circular rope swing to their extended collection of aviary perching places. While I have to put Truman on each toy individually, Kili hops fearlessly from toy to toy.
On Saturday I took Kili and Truman into their aviary together for the first time. I finally added toys and perches to the aviary, some old and some new. Many of them you might recognize from Truman's toy shopping I did after getting him. Unfortunately cause of his injury much of that had gone unused for a while but came in quite handy for decorating the aviary. I reused many of Kili's old swings though to make comfortable hanging perches for her.
Truman just hung out wherever I'd put him. Kili got comfortable quite quickly and was moving from perch to perch. Sometimes she would fly but mostly she found it more convenient to climb up the toy to the ceiling bars, hang upside down, make her way across the ceiling, and then down the chain for the next toy. The boing spiral rope perch quickly became Kili's favorite. This is a bit of a problem because when I put Truman on that and Kili elsewhere, Kili flew over and started attacking Truman until he fell off and landed on the aviary bars. This is why for the time being I am keeping Truman in the aviary daily (when weather and time permits) but only putting Kili in on occasion when I can be inside to supervise. I want Truman to become more familiar with the aviary so he could have at least a little advantage over Kili. Until I can feel confident that Truman is healed and that Kili cannot hurt him, I have to stay inside whenever they are together.
For the next few weeks there is a street fair going on nearby so I've been taking Kili there quite frequently. I am using this as a way of desensitizing her to people and noise because some day I might have to take her to a TV studio. So to teach her not to be scared of novel environments, I think these outings are very effective. The first time I walked through the fair I had her perch on my hand and held her leash pretty tightly. She can only fly to the end of the leash but in such tight crowds I could not risk her going even that far.
As we continued, Kili was becoming much more relaxed and used to the situation so I let her sit on my shoulder the entire way back. I have brought her several more times since. With every successive time I bring her, the less time it takes before I can stop holding her and just put her on my shoulder. She may flinch a little when a balloon pops but she does not try to fly away. There was not a single time she tried to fly off and in fact the more scared she is, the tighter she clings to me instead. So even without a harness I could have made all of these outings much the same way. It's just that in that very unlikely even that she does try to fly off, the harness is my backup plan.
Kili would get really vocal during these walks with many "hellos" and noises that she does. A girl wanted to hold Kili so I let her. She began asking if it's ok to pet Kili and just as I was uttering the word no she stuck her finger in and got a good bite. Didn't have the patience to hear the answer. Really it is ok to pet Kili but only in a certain way. She didn't give me the chance to show her. But hey, a good lesson for the girl no less. She was surprised that parrots can bite but really I would not even classify it a parrot bite as there wasn't any blood. Some other parrot owning people took notice and wanted to talk. I was surprised that otherwise these parrot outings went quite unnoticed. Typically Kili brings out a much bigger gathering at the park.
It has been over 3 weeks since Truman's injury. He is by no means healed but he is definitely doing better. I have started bringing him out into the aviary but inside of another cage so that he wouldn't move around too much. Today, for the first time, I left him out in the actually aviary for some duration of time. I hung a rope perch and a toy and he spent nearly an hour on there. I'm still not providing him major opportunities to fly around but it doesn't seem like he really wants to at this stage anyway. I did put a training perch in nearby in case he fell off the swing so that he would have a place to fly to.
I decided that for now Truman is better off spending some time loose in the aviary than in his normal cage. I'm going to wait another week before returning him to the cage but instead will let him spend a few hours a day in the aviary. You see, in the cage he can fall down and is more likely to hurt his leg again. In the aviary, there is enough room that he can fly and probably land on the cage walls. I did not hang additional toys/perches yet so that I'm not tempting Truman to fly around too much for now. What do you think of his toys so far?