You’ve heard of dog rescues and cat rescues... How ‘bout a parrot rescue? One of the best in the world calls Geneva home.
Driving down a dirt lane in a uniquely rural part of Seminole County, you might expect to encounter some standard barnyard sounds – clucks, moos, neighs, maybe a bleat or two.
But nothing quite prepares you for the raucous welcome that awaits at Ellen Sherman’s 12-acre farm in Geneva. The lakefront farm is, indeed, home to cows, chickens, ducks, donkeys, and sheep, and joining the more familiar barnyard chorus are the squawks, chirps, and ‘HELLOs!’ of the roughly 200 tropical birds that reside there.
These are the sounds of parrots: cockatoos, cockatiels, lovebirds, macaws, conures, parakeets, lories, African greys, Amazons, and eclectus. The motley flock belongs to the Seminole County Parrot Rescue and Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization founded and run by the dedicated and tireless Ellen. She’s been rescuing and rehoming parrots on her farm for more than a decade and now adopts out several hundred parrots a year.
Ellen initially fell into the role when she was looking for a companion for her own pet parrots. She responded to an ad by a so-called parrot rescue and found herself in a garage stacked with caged birds in dirty, deplorable conditions. She watched the owner scatter cat food into their cages.
“I bought everything he would let me buy,” says Ellen. “He was doing it to make money, not to rescue birds.”
On Ellen’s farm, the conditions are quite the opposite. The birds reside in clean, roomy cages and they eat a rich diet of vegetables and fruit from Ellen’s own garden. There are other rescued animals here, too, including two huge African sulcate tortoises and two prairie dogs.
“There’s not much I don’t rescue if I have the facility for it!” laughs Ellen.
And she doesn’t seem bothered by the constant din. As Ellen walks through one fan-cooled building filled with her feathered charges, she stops and visits each one, noting their names, personal quirks, and family and medical histories. Some of the cage doors are open and the birds perch above their cages or let Ellen hold them. Several of the parrots here are lifers – birds that are aging, self-plucked, bonded with other birds such that they can’t be separated, or challenging in ways that make them very difficult to adopt.
To find homes for the parrots that can be adopted, Ellen runs an active Facebook page where she posts photos and descriptions of newly surrendered or rescued birds and updates her supporters on bird adoptions. She has a large following among parrot-lovers, and people have driven from as far away as Texas, Virginia, and Washington State to entrust her with pet birds they can no longer keep for one reason or another.
“They’ve heard about me, and they know that I’m not going to do anything with that bird unless it’s the best for them.”
In fact, Ellen is careful about who gets to adopt the birds. It’s a matchmaking affair, and she must meet all family members to make sure everyone is on board, since parrots aren’t for everyone.
“Before anyone even gets here, I make them do an adoption application,” says Ellen. “Once I’ve got all the information, they come out and meet some birds. Sometimes, it might take more than one trip because I just don’t see a match. I need to see a connection.”
Running the parrot sanctuary and caring for all the other animals on her farm requires Ellen’s attention seven days a week. She receives donations from followers, but Ellen and her husband pay the bulk of the expenses themselves. She recently took on an assistant who will bring some much-needed relief in case Ellen gets sick or needs a day off.
Despite the sunup-to-sundown hours, it’s clear that Ellen is devoted to the parrots. You can see on her Facebook page that she sometimes has a hard time saying goodbye to birds she’s cared for over many years.
“I wouldn’t mind a day off now and then,” Ellen admits, “but it’s not hard work when you love it.”
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