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The Evergreen Acres Bird Ranch and Sanctuary
by Beth Morehouse
Hello, my name is Beth Morehouse and with Mike Mischitelle we own and operate the Evergreen Acres Bird Ranch and Sanctuary.
The questions we get asked most often are, "What are you all about and what do you take in?" Sounds simple enough but in our case it's a little more complex. With 25 years in aviculture the role we play has evolved over the years. Some of you have known us for years and some are meeting us for the first time. A little background on us and some of the birds we have helped can possibly answer these and other questions.
Mike became interested in birds in 1976 with the purchase of a single cockatiel as a pet. At that time pet birds were becoming very popular and when we met in 1982 Mike had a small aviary of breeding cockatiels, cockatoos and an amazon. I had a macaw, a budgie and a canary. Information as to their keeping was very limited. There were no large pet centers as we see around today—just small pet stores, it seemed on every other corner. Some stores would even have a few pairs of breeding birds in their back room. With our similar love for birds it seemed only natural we would expand our aviary and turn our little hobby into a business. For the next few years all our holidays were taken up visiting aviaries, import stations and veterinarian clinics all across Florida. We took in all the information we could. We learned a great deal from several large breeders who were very happy to share their knowledge with us—a habit we nurture even today. The sharing of knowledge amongst us will only benefit the health and well-being of our pet birds. We decided to make a long term commitment to aviculture and that year we joined a parrot club and became quite involved. We met a lot of great people and a variety of different birds at each meeting. During this period we had an opportunity to take in a cockatiel and a few budgies that some people could not keep. Little did we know this would be the start of something larger.
In those early years we visited many pet stores and saw some birds in poor condition that would never sell. This one particular pet store seemed quite content just to have a blue & gold macaw in their shop, regardless of the condition it was in. Such was the circumstance with Patricia. Although she had a broken wing which had long ago healed at a precarious angle and was in a cage far too small for even an amazon, it was a macaw. The shop owner specialized in small finches and canaries and was totally terrified of this wild bird. She was never allowed out of the cage and was there on consignment from one of his friends—and had been there for a whole year. We could see the glum future for Patricia so we offered the shop owner some hand-raised baby cockatiels in exchange for her. The exchange of a saleable bird offered the shop owner the opportunity to see a financial return very quickly instead of holding onto a wild caught bird that would probably never sell. So began our Sanctuary rescues. Patricia is still with us today and will even take treats from our hand, ever so gently.
In 1984 we got a call from a club member who had a neighbor with two macaws who could not keep both of them. Our only information was that one was noisy. Upon arriving we were led into a small bedroom/bird room. When the lights were turned on there were two macaws, one on the back of a chair, the other on the floor and no cage. The room was basically destroyed—molding chewed, furniture with pieces missing and a big shredded hole in the carpet. (We later surmised that the bird was using the materials for a nest.) The bird was totally plucked and upon anyone's entry, it would scream at the top of its lungs. To get into the room the owner would physically beat the bird back with a broom. We were disgusted but decided to say nothing—our main concern was to get the bird out of the situation and into a stable environment. The companion macaw was quite tame; when the wild bird was removed his loving pet status would return. The wild one had been purchased with the good intention of providing a companion and mate.
We felt that with a change of environment there might be a good chance of calming the bird down, but to no avail. When the room had to be cleaned we could not use a broom for the bird would go into a flighty panic. A small dust brush had to suffice around his cage. He was always skittish and would cower at the back of the cage when you approached him—even with treats. For close to a year we tried everything to calm him down with no success. One evening we heard screams in the bird room. We found the macaw in distress at the bottom of his cage. We were very fortunate to be personal friends with an avian veterinarian—we called him and made arrangements to take the bird in immediately. With his best efforts the bird did not make it. Post mortem revealed that the bird died of a perforated stomach ulcer—probably stress related. The bird had bled to death—the first this veterinarian had ever seen in a bird. We were very upset with this loss which we considered to be the result of abuse—what do we do?—call the previous owner and tell him what he was responsible for—or phone the humane society and report him? This incident set one of the rules by which we would operate. No matter what the situation we would not be judgmental in a rescue—the health and safety of the birds were to be the main priority. You must realize that in the early 1980's the majority of parrots in captivity were wild caught and there was very little knowledge about how they would adapt to being caged, especially the large birds. The industry was new in Canada and information on these birds was pretty much non-existent. Everyone had an opinion but no one had any real facts. We did a lot of soul searching and decided if that we were going to do this it was going to be done right.
Mike and I are a team who bring a lot of different abilities and talents together to develop this wonderful work with parrots. Mike is the "idea" man and very capable of designing and building anything we need. So we build everything we need—cages, racking systems for suspended cages, breeding boxes and our house. I had taken a nutrition course at the University of Guelph years before meeting Mike and was very keen to ensure that the birds were well nourished. There was only one pelleted diet available, which was being imported, and most birds ate seeds, which made their diet seriously lacking. We developed our parrot feed with the help of several qualified people and are able to feed our birds a high quality pelleted diet. We also have several aviaries using our pellets.
Our experience gave us the ability to deal with unusual circumstances in a more efficient and constructive way—so entered a unique amazon into our lives. This young amazon apparently suffered a spinal injury as an infant, in the nursery of his breeder. The young lady who had cared for him for the first seven years of his life could no longer deal with him so she passed him on to a young man who was thrilled to take on the little guy. Unfortunately, he could not handle the daily baths required as Fred had no perching capabilities and just rolled around in his feces all day. When Fred arrived at the Sanctuary we had set up a special cage for him with a suspended wire bottom so the feces could fall through and leave him a clean base to lie on. However, much to everyone's surprise, Fred did not roll about! He clamped his toes into the wire, held onto the wire side with his beak and did have the ability to keep himself upright. The type of cage was imperative to his muscle development and progress and, within two months, he was showing actual slow forward movement of each leg, very tedious but definite progress. He actually bathes whenever he wishes by lowering himself into his large, shallow water dish and within the first year he was actually sitting on the perch placed just 2" off the floor. The most wonderful thing is to observe him lying on his back playing and fighting with his hanging toy which, of course, has to come right to the floor of his cage for his specific need. His toys, I might add, have to be replaced regularly as he does just as good a job of destroying them as do any of his non-handicapped aviary buddies. He now lives in his own cage, placed between two other amazons of the same species, and appears to be very happy and content. His mobility has greatly increased over the years—handicaps can be dealt with—they just require a little more ingenuity to make the coping easier.
Then Johnny came into our lives in 1985. We picked him up at the airport after he was flown in from the west coast—that was approximately 15 years ago. His owners would give no real explanation as to why they could not keep him and we did not ask. At that time we were able to trace back his ownership in Canada approximately 22 years. He was definitely a mature wild caught bird. He was a healthy, feisty male Citron Crested Cockatoo who was male-oriented, which meant that I could not have anything to do with him—Mike was his buddy. Any time he got out of his cage when we were doing food and water he flew right to Mike and had a great visit. If I passed by too closely he would do the usual protective lunge at me. One day we came home to an escaped Johnny burrowing his way through the wall—he had chewed through 1/2 inch drywall, pulled out the insulation, chewed up the blackboard and vapour barrier. Had it not been for the aluminum siding on the outside of the house he would have been gone. Destructive bird, yes! Was it his fault?—no. He was an escape artist.
Johnny started to go blind approximately eight years ago—he stopped eating and went downhill very quickly. We were feeding baby birds at the time so Johnny joined them in the nursery and began taking 60 cc's of baby food four times a day. He learned very quickly to take the food from the syringe and put his weight back on within a week. It took lots of nurturing to convince him that there is life after blindness—after four months he finally began eating on his own again, playing with toys and chewing his perches up. One of the greatest changes it made in Johnny's personality was that he let me handle him. We now have a good time playing "jump up" which Johnny does when he gets excited—flaring his crest and screeching joyfully. He is still with us today and is a healthy, happy bird.
We have encountered many unique circumstances over the years in our willingness to take in just about anything in need of a home. One of our greatest challenges was a Green Wing Macaw who was epileptic. Jane came to us from an avian veterinarian who had worked with her but could not control the seizures. She would have her seizures in the early a.m.—2 a.m. to 3 a.m.—with violent screaming which could wake the dead. With some research into epilepsy we set about gearing her environment to coping with her problem. One of the first things we did was to air condition her room as extreme heat was one of the triggers in setting off a seizure. With an improved diet, climate controlled room and a stable life, her seizures decreased in the first six months from 3 or 4 per week to 1 or 2 per month. The cage she was in was modified so that during a seizure if she fell off the perch she was at a minimum height from the floor of the cage, all food cans and water bowls were placed high in the cage so she could not drown or get caught up in them, and the floor was made with a lighter wire with no supports so it would have a trampoline type affect. This seemed to work well. When winter came on her seizures were almost non-existent. The down side to Jane's story was that the veterinarian advised us that her seizures would be her death and he was right. Jane lived with us for four years before she succumbed to her condition. They were happy years with lots of play and companionship with her buddy, Pedro, who took very good care of her.
Most of the birds that come to the sanctuary come in unexpectedly. We had a call one day from a gentleman who needed to board his Amazon until his move to his new home was complete and he was able to get the bird room set up. We were told at this time that the bird would drink a lot of water and that a small water bowl would not suffice. We picked up Penny and brought her home and soon found out that she had a problem. Rather than take any chances we took her to our veterinarian and she was diagnosed with a kidney condition which caused her to drink a lot of water. The veterinarian advised us that she would drink 70% greater volume than the average bird so Penny has a very large water bowl to compensate for her great need. This amount of output does, of course, cause a problem for your average pet owner who cannot usually cope with coming home every day to a floating cage bottom. The added problem is the smell. We are not surprised that we have never heard from Penny's owner again, once we realized how severe her condition was. Nine years have passed and Penny is still with us—still drinking lots and a very happy camper. She has a mate named George, another sanctuary amazon, who she controls completely—definitely a bossy girl. They get along very well as long as George keeps his place. By the way, George is old and has gone blind with cataracts in the past two years but still holds his own very well with Penny.
In 1987 we purchased 120 acres of treed land to house our future endeavor. We moved to our new home in 1991 and that is where we are today. In the early 90's, during the recession, people had circumstances develop such that they could no longer keep their birds. Some of these birds came into the Sanctuary. These situations are very upsetting as anyone who owns a pet bird knows it feels like it is part of the family. The one thing we have always emphasized is that if they want their bird back it is still theirs, consider it summer camp. After several years, when things stabilized, some of these placements did return home to their owners. The Sanctuary is not a one way street—if possible, we are happy to see the birds return to their respective responsible owners. We are currently boarding several birds due to job relocations and we know they are going to be with us for a number of years, definitely returning home at a later date. There are a lot of stories we can tell you about the birds that have come to us over the past fifteen years. These are just a few. It is our policy not to give out the names of previous owners. Therefore, the names of the birds above have been changed to avoid any wrongful association.
Even though our main love is with parrots we have opened up our property to other organizations. In 1993 we opened our property for the release of cottontail rabbits that had been nursed back to health by a wildlife centre. Red tail squirrels that were rescued also found a permanent home on our property.
In 1994 an enclosed rehabilitation flight was built 6 ft. high, 8 ft. wide and 60 ft. long for wild birds with injuries to live and gain their wing strength back. The flight has prepared hundreds of ducks, geese, seagulls, pigeons and an assortment of other birds for their journey back into the wild.
In 1995 a safe pond was constructed to assist goslings and ducklings that came to our facility from various Humane Societies. Here they could grow up in a safe environment and in the fall migrate with other birds of their kind. We feel our greatest compliment came when we were approached by the Ministry of Natural Resources who asked if we would take in two mature, unreleaseable Bald Eagles. One had been shot by a hunter outside of Fort Francis, Ontario and the other was hit by a truck on the Trans Canada Highway. Neither would fly again. Two weeks later a special enclosure had been built and they are now part of our family. Our association with the Humane Societies, SPCA's and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers has been warm and cordial and we feel we both have something to offer.
Over the last ten years our landscape has changed dramatically. We have planted over 1400 trees through a reforestation program. Over 60 fruit trees (apples, pears, plums and an assortment of fruit-bearing bushes and shrubs) have also been added to supply pesticide-free fruit to the aviary.
Since beginning the Sanctuary we have always needed to expand our facility and this year we are coming very close to moving into our new aviary. Mike has designed and constructed, with the help of some friends, a unique 3,100 sq. ft. building with windows all the way around, letting in lots of natural daylight. We believe that along with the physical well being of these birds they should also be stimulated mentally. The birds will be able to view the weather of each day. We find it fascinating to see the birds taking baths in their water bowls when it is raining outside or basking in the sunlight early in the morning. Our expansion into a larger facility will also allow us to pursue greater educational outreach which we believe is essential for the future well-being of our feathered friends. An additional 1,500 sq. ft. will be added as an educational centre to enhance the breeding and rehabilitation centre. Educating the young and the new parrot owner is the only way to prepare them for proper care-giving in the future. In the past we have had schools and special interest groups to our facility but we were always at the mercy of mother nature. With an indoor venue we plan to set up a classroom and have school classes, special interest groups and invited parrot owners who have problems with their bird to come to the Sanctuary to have "hands-on" learning sessions. We want them to realize that the beautiful birds they see come with lots of responsibilities they never could imagine.
We have also had many inquiries from Boy Scout and Girl Guide groups over the years. There is a need for interesting places for seniors' homes to do day trips. In the past we have gone to schools and Boy Scout troop meetings and they have all expressed a strong desire to come and see the Sanctuary first hand. This will now become a reality as we develop the facility to handle such visits.
We are not funded by any organization or corporation. Mike and I have supported the Sanctuary through our own full time jobs, breedings of our own birds and sales of our products. We must acknowledge that over the years we have made a lot of dear friends and volunteers who have donated time and resources to this cause. Since we started doing the pet shows we have added financial support through the products we design and build ourselves. All of our products are made at the Sanctuary by hand and any money made from the sale of them goes directly back into the keeping and feeding of the birds. We handle all the administrative costs from our own pockets. All products are thought up and designed by Mike and tested by our own birds before being sold to the public. We are aware that most of our toys are easily chewed up and destroyed by the large birds but that is what they are designed for.
The beautiful acrylic toys are tough and pretty and with the addition of our toys it gives them the pleasure of a destructible toy and the non-destructible one is there for later entertainment.
Our ceramic T's were designed for portability and potty-training. They have proved to be a great boon for many people who previously had no way to take their bird with them from room to room and then have a place for them to perch as they stripped the beds on laundry day or went out to the garden to weed. With a portable perch the bird gets more "out" time and versatility in their daily routine as well. The potty training aspect was a great bonus as people came to realize that this trick could actually be accomplished. Not a big deal to Polly, I might add. We have also expanded our product line this year to include a large selection of toys and a larger play area. The versatility we have built into our products makes them interchangeable and everyone can build their own design.
As we said earlier, the role we play in Aviculture as a Sanctuary has changed over the years. In the 80's the majority of birds we were receiving were designated "wild caught." These were the ones that did not adapt to captivity. Some were the constant screamers or birds that were afraid of humans. Then there were the old ones who went from breeder to breeder because they did not produce young or did not bond to a mate and that no private home would take. Still others had broken wings that did not heal properly or were amputated, missing toes, only one foot, deformed legs, only one leg or blind. As you can see the majority of birds we receive do not qualify as a complete and healthy bird. We deal with the ones that would otherwise "fall through the cracks." As time went by it seemed that the day of the wild caught bird was just about over. Almost anything in the wild was now available as captive bred. Good varied diets were available, cages improved and there were plenty of good books on the market. However, it seemed that our role would again change as to the types of birds we would see. They started coming in slowly—but they did come. The spoiled bird that would scream till his owner let him out of his cage. Some of these bird owners lived in apartments and were not aware of the noise they could make—the noise was too much and the bird had to go. The jealousy bite when a bird bonds to one person and thinks it is protecting them from their spouse. The bird cannot be totally trusted again. This mainly applied to the children of the family and especially any newborns—again, the bird had to go. We in aviculture are very fortunate that in these instances the "one bite" rule does not apply to birds as it does to other animals. The plucked birds we have coming in are mostly cockatoos. Some come in with just a few feathers missing and the owners find it troublesome to look at, some are completely naked and still others that will actually tear their own flesh. The reasons for feather plucking are too extensive to go into at this time. We are often reminded that maybe some of these birds should be euthanized as it is not natural. It is a decision that we wrestle with all the time. In some cases, sadly to say, it was necessary but only in extreme circumstances or if there is no chance for a quality of life. These birds did not ask to be here, we put them here.
If they run into trouble it must be our responsibility and it is our obligation to help out whenever possible. There are more questions than answers here and we do know that euthanasia is not the answer to our avicultural problems. There are birds that come into the Sanctuary that are well adjusted and a great pet but no longer fit into the lifestyle of their owners. Over the years we have tried adopting birds out—only with the permission of the previous owner and only if we felt that it was a good match. In the majority of cases we tried it did not work and the bird was returned. So what is our main goal? It is to try to keep the bird with its owner if at all possible and if not to give it the best possible home we can with the assurance that the bird will never leave.
We are not critics in the industry, we are bird keepers and breeders like most of yourselves. The only difference is that we run a Sanctuary for unwanted birds. Our feeling is that if we are going to be part of this industry and we take something out we should put something back. We in aviculture are very fortunate. Unlike dog or cat or horse breeders, we are special for we have taken one of the most beautiful and intelligent creatures on the face of the earth, some on the verge of extinction and made an industry for ourselves through the propagation of their species thus ensuring their future and ours. But our role does not end there—we must also provide as much knowledge to the pet owner as possible. Educate them on the joys as well as the pitfalls of owning a bird so that nothing surprises them. Continuing support is essential so that when a problem arises there are people there with answers. This is not only for the benefit of the bird but of the industry. And why should we do all this? So there will be fewer birds that will "fall through the cracks."
Beth Morehouse (Canada)
Ms. Morehouse demonstrated her concern for the welfare of parrots when she worked tirelessly to establish Evergreen Acres Bird Ranch as a haven for parrots who needed new homes. Her sanctuary provides these birds the opportunity to live out their lives in a caring atmosphere.