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A cacophony of chirps, squawks, and whistles greet Ellen Sherman as she approaches the barn that once housed a large portion of her rescue parrots. Now, it’s filled with ankle-deep, murky brown stormwater.
“We’ve got to wade this deep to feed them every day and that’s going to be rough in the wintertime,” Sherman said.
Sherman, Seminole County Parrot Rescue and Sanctuary founder, along with her volunteers, have since moved many of the parrots outside of the barn.
The nonprofit animal rescue service located in Geneva suffered such significant damage from Hurricane Ian that she estimates they’ve had to foster out around 46 parrots, with around 50 or more still remaining. Fourteen parrots are now housed on the patio of Sherman’s home. She said the storm flooded much of her 12 acres of property, which contains her home and the homes of the parrots and the other animals she rescues.
Sherman said it’s been hard to be apart from some of her birds, but she’s glad to know that they’re in good hands. She said that the time spent recently moving many of her macaws was necessary but difficult.
“I had somebody come in with a truck and we hauled every single one of them and he took them to his farm and set them up,” Sherman said. “They’ve been here a lot of years. Even though I couldn’t hold them, I loved them.”
Sherman said the flooding from the storm has gone down a bit but it’s been a slow process.
“It’ll take the water quite a while to go down,” Sherman said. “When it does, I’m hoping to rebuild but because it’s going to be so long I think I’m going to…put a smaller building up so I can get open sooner and get some of my birds home.”
Thankfully, Sherman said the rescue didn’t lose any lives to the hurricane.
“That’s why I’m so grateful, because everybody was safe,” Sherman said. “I was lucky. The birds were lucky.”
The rescue has served as a home for a variety of animal residents over the years, both temporary and permanent, such as dogs, cats, ducks, cows, tortoises, foxes, bunnies, chickens, and even a prairie dog. But there have always been parrots, with all types of species from macaws to cockatoos.
Sherman said some of the parrots are surrendered by people who can no longer care for the bird or simply don’t want them. Others are lost pets that are found and brought to the rescue to try and find the owner before being adopted out. Some are taken in with the intent to be adopted out while others may become permanent residents at the rescue if they have difficult-to-treat conditions, require large amounts of care, or are much older.
“That’s what we do when we get the birds in, we get to know them and decide the best thing for them,” Sherman said.
Sherman said she ensures her parrots receive good quality diets and previously grew much of the produce herself on the property. She even had 37 chickens that provided fresh eggs. But then her garden became flooded from the storm and Sherman had to give up her chickens.
“My food bill alone is about $2,000 a month,” Sherman said. “And that’s with me raising a lot of it because they get fresh produce every day. I grew a lot of the vegetables for the birds and for myself.”
Finding a way to rebuild
The damages to Sherman’s property are extensive. She and her team have entered the barn to try and salvage and clean what they can, but the work is tough. She said she’s had to turn down a few birds in need of a home because there isn’t enough room to care for them.
“I definitely need money to rebuild,” Sherman said. “Even if I wasn’t rebuilding, we always need money to support this place.”
The donation link for the rescue can be found here.
Lisa Masse is a volunteer who manages the grant writing and fundraising for the rescue. She said in addition to monetary donations, the rescue is seeking a space donation for a fundraising event.
“I usually like to do them on the scene of the rescue but… we can’t do anything there,” Masse said. “I’m looking for somebody who’d like to donate some space for a night for hosting a bingo, raffle or auction event. We need to get money rolling in now so she can rebuild.”
Masse said anyone interested in donating space can email her here.
Finding temporary homes
Darien Frey began working as a volunteer for the rescue four years ago, before eventually becoming a full-time employee.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point,” Frey said. “I fell in love with the birds and the place. I also now have quite a few [birds] of my own, including two fosters from the flood.”
Sherman has volunteers at her rescue to help with tasks like cage cleaning or organizing supplies. She said that once Hurricane Ian hit, many of the volunteers began contacting her with offers to take in and foster some of the displaced parrots.
“That’s what was nice about the volunteers taking them home,” Sherman said. “Because here they’re upset and displaced but they’re going to people that they know and are comfortable with.”
Elisabeth Clifford has been a volunteer at the rescue since August. She said she reached out to Sherman once the storm hit to offer herself as a foster and ended up taking in a pair of Amazon parrots.
“They’ve already been through so much, these birds,” Clifford said. “You have to be careful when you’re placing them. You don’t want to separate two that know each other or are kind of bonded.”
Clifford said the rescue team has worked hard to salvage what they can on the property after the hurricane.
“We’ve been able to get most of the stuff out of the bird barn that was flooded and be able to get stuff cleaned up,” Clifford said. “Right after the hurricane it was so much work because everything had to be cleaned and disinfected…because a lot of it was in the floodwaters.”
Erin Wexler has been a volunteer at the rescue since March. She said she took in five birds to foster, including one who she became very fond of while helping at the rescue: a Moluccan cockatoo named Savannah. Wexler said she spent time with the bird at the rescue while cleaning his enclosure and trying to get him to step onto her arm.
“I always clean his walk-in and kind of got to know him over the last couple months,” Wexler said. “Just before the hurricane, he finally stepped up for me. I’ve been working on it forever and he finally stepped up and I was so excited.”
Masse also fostered one of the parrots in need: a 43-year-old blue-fronted Amazon called Pepper.
“She’s definitely a special-needs bird and she’s very, very arthritic in her feet,” Masse said. “She’s probably a foster fail. She’ll stay here forever because nobody else is going to want to take her in.”
Heart of the rescue
Through it all, the volunteers say Sherman is at the center of everything the rescue does.
“I was so happy to be out helping for the birds and for Ellen because she puts so much heart into the sanctuary,” Clifford said.
“She cares and loves for those for the animals like they’re hers,” Wexler said. “A lot of people come in, especially elderly folks if they can’t take care of their birds anymore and their families don’t want their birds, and ask could you keep the bird for the rest of his life? We don’t want them going from home to home to home to home. And Ellen keeps her word, she’ll keep a bird and they’ll live out the rest of his or her life there with her.”
“Ellen does so much for the birds,” Masse said. “I cannot believe what a big heart she has.”
At the end of the day, Sherman said despite the challenges the rescue faces, she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I mean, this would have been a perfect opportunity for me to retire and just say ‘Okay, we’re not rebuilding’,” Sherman said. “But I can’t. What am I going to do? I would be lost. I mean, this is what I do and I enjoy it. It’s rewarding, very rewarding.”