One of the best parts about working for BirdTricks is the constant contact with other bird lovers. As owners, the learning never stops and we are always looking for new and better ways to improve our birds’ lives.
Out there, in the avian community, there are countless unsung heroes – rescues who go the extra mile for the birds in their care every single day, without much praise or much help, people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to create amazing habitats for their personal birds, and those who take in that one special bird that no one else wants, often knowing they aren’t long for this world.
So every month, I want to recognize one person or group who will inspire us all with their dedication, innovation and compassion…
I will begin this series with the introduction of Matt Smith, the Executive Director of the Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary, also known as Project Perry. Matt is a dedicated and experienced bird lover who is committed to the betterment of the many birds in his care.
Located on 15 acres in the beautiful state of Virginia, Project Perry is a haven for birds that do not thrive as “pets”. Matt provides a place for them to live out their lives in a safe and natural environment that is suited to their special needs. Those birds who wish to be interactive with their human caregivers are given that opportunity, while others who prefer just being birds are encouraged to enjoy their avian flock-mates in peace.
Q: How did the sanctuary come to be named Project Perry?
A: Perry was one of the first birds I had when I first started keeping parrots as companions. Unfortunately she passed away. It was very hard on me at the time but her passing is what led me into the world of parrot rescue – I then started volunteering at Foster Parrots in Massachusetts where I stayed for 2 years prior to establishing the Sanctuary in Virginia.
I came up with the name Project Perry when I still lived in New Hampshire and was still undecided about where exactly in the country I wanted to establish the Sanctuary. Since her passing led me into the world of rescue, I went ahead and named the organization after her. It wasn’t until establishing the Sanctuary in Virginia in 2006 that I gave it a more descriptive title – The Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary – because by the name you can now understand what we do and where we do it. Project Perry is still the legal name.
Q: How many birds do you house and what is the most common species?
A: About a third (43 at this time) of our residents are African Greys. This is because we have a very large (3,600 sq.ft.) year-round, fully climate controlled aviary dedicated specifically to African Greys. Most of the Greys in the aviary are older wild-caught / ex-breeders and/or birds that came from cruelty cases. It is because we have the innovative aviary for them that we have so many Greys. Another third of our population are the little guys (cockatiels, budgies, finches) which live in a similar (but smaller) aviary to the Grey Aviary. Another third of our population are made up by various species awaiting adoption or (at this time) many conures due to move into the new Conure Aviary when that is completed. We try to be very careful about not taking in permanent residents that we do not have appropriate long-term aviaries for. At this time our population is around 140.
Q: How is Project Perry staffed?
A: I am the only full time staff member and caretaker at this period in time. The past few years have been tough on fundraising. Instead of diminishing the quality of care we provide the birds to pay staff members, we require a volunteer work force to assist with the daily cleaning and feeding. A few key volunteers also cover me when I go away on business – such as animal conferences or speaking engagements – and the occasional personal time-off.
First thing every morning, I wake up to cut up a large bowl of fresh fruits and veggies. This is done before any volunteers arrive. It’s my favorite time of the day because everyone is just waking up and getting their day started. There’s a feeling of renewal each and every morning and an opportunity to think about what is to be accomplished that day. Volunteers arrive at 9am and begin taking care of the birds – room by room – while I tend to take care of the outside aviaries at the same time. Volunteers interact with the birds as they clean and feed and can stay after everything is done if they want to spend more quality time with a certain bird or birds.
Q: I know you regard all of your birds as special, but very often sanctuaries report one bird that has very special needs or who has a story that stands out. Is there one bird there that tugs on your heartstrings?
A: If I could choose one resident that has my heart the most I would probably say Peach. She lives in the Grey Aviary and was one of the original group of ex-breeders we took in and the group that led to the aviary being built. Although we do not know her exact age, being an older wild-caught and based on her physical condition I would assume she is fairly old. She is plucked and has arthritis.
She cannot fly but when she grasps a branch like a handlebar and flaps her wings in excitement it is enough to bring a tear to your eye. She has the heart and will of any wild parrot. Despite her condition and inability to fly, she gets along great in the aviary. She is a bit of a “matriarch” of the flock – birds just do not give her a hard time and fully respect what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. She even has a small group of friends that typically spend their day near her – Greys that also have some form of a disability – whether it be that they cannot fly or are more timid than the others. She has a crush on Stoney – she often “chases” him down to do everything she can to get him to reciprocate the feelings she has for him. It’s cute to watch.
Q: What makes you different from the typical bird rescue?
A: I established the Sanctuary because I identified the need to create permanent environments for a population of birds that would not do well in foster or adoption organizations. Wild-caught ex-breeder parrots are a good example. While there are literally hundreds of foster and adoption groups across the country aimed at re-homing companion birds, there are only a very small handful of accredited parrot sanctuaries in the country that do what we do.
A great example of the need for work like ours is the case of Tallis – a rescued Congo African Grey. Last summer she was part of a 100+ breeder bird cruelty case in Tennessee. A parrot rescue group out West took in a large number of the birds but quickly realized that they had taken in a very wild single female breeder Grey. Just the sight of a person would throw her into a flailing panic.
If you can imagine her experience with humans – from being captured in Africa several decades ago – to having her babies and/or eggs removed ever since then – that she is understandably not very fond of people. We call those Greys “growlers” because of the deep throated growling/panic noise they make when very frightened – it is something unique to African Greys. Instead of forcing Tallis to become someone’s pet, which would be absolute torture to such a bird, they made the decision to ask us if there was a spot for her in the Grey Aviary which we agreed to – she is exactly what we specialize in.
She is set to arrive this month and we are excited to give her the only thing that is appropriate for a bird like her. She will once again have a cage-free life, be able to fly at will and enjoy the companionship of others just like her. To care for birds like her is why the Sanctuary exists. However, we do operate an adoption program as well to help a number of birds that would do well in a traditional home setting.
Q: Your aviaries are magnificent! Who designed them?
A: I designed them myself. When I started out I did a lot of thinking, trying to figure out how to build structures that we were able to use year-round in our four-season climate. What I came up with is utilizing greenhouse technology for most of the structure and modified it specifically for parrots.
The heavy duty steel frame is covered with polycarbonate panels in the heated section and stainless steel mesh for the outside section. We also installed shade cloths and exhaust fans to keep things cool in the warmer weather and installed bird-safe furnaces to keep things warm in the winter. We go through thousands of gallons of propane each winter – so our heating costs are fairly large depending on how harsh of a winter we have. The heat and cooling features are all set to thermostats so we’re able to keep it climate controlled throughout the year. We also have a misting system installed in the Grey Aviary for those extra hot summer days.
Lastly, the entire Sanctuary has 100% backup from not one but two automatic standby generators in the event of a power outage. This is crucial for us – in the event of an outage, within 10 seconds the generators sense it and automatically start up and full power is restored. We don’t miss a beat!
Q: What are your biggest areas of need? How can people help?
A: We need donor support throughout the year to maintain the quality of care that we do. Unfortunately we do have to turn away a large percentage of surrender requests every year. There are just far too many birds in need than there are resources available to those birds in need. We hope that in time things will change and there is a greater level of support from the public and from animal foundations. With more support, more birds can be helped. Until then, we are careful not to get in over our heads because it does not do the birds you’ve rescued any good if you cannot properly take care of them. Currently, we have a capital campaign running to help us move the construction of the Conure Aviary along. Here is the link. We hope to reach our goal amount by the end of May!
The Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary is a well-run and dedicated facility and a very worthy cause for those looking to help birds in need. They are hoping to raise $5,000 of the $75,000 needed by the end of May. Let’s help Matt fund that conure aviary!
If every person reading this article donates just a single dollar, they will meet their goal and the conures will be able to enjoy a natural outdoor habitat and gain all the healthy benefits of a life in the fresh air and sunshine! Please click on THIS link to donate! Thank you, Matt, for providing a happy and safe permanent home to birds who were less fortunate in the past.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.