Friday, April 2, 2021

Volunteers work to save bird refuge

Seymour's Bird Refuge in Cumberland has struggled
to make ends meet during the pandemic, but recently
has been energized by a GoFundMe initiative created
by a refuge volunteer. The effort has raised money to
help care for and re-home exotic birds through the fall.

By Elizabeth Richards

For more than 20 years, Seymour’s Bird Refuge in Cumberland has both cared for and re-homed birds, but in 2020, the pandemic almost forced the refuge to shut down. 

When the pandemic hit, the on-site bird supplies store that supports the refuge had to shift to curbside service only from March 2020 to July 2020.  Customers began ordering supplies online, diminishing the primary income stream for the refuge, said owner Andrea Tims.

Once they were able to reopen, she said, people were slow to return to the store.

Donna Gerardo, a longtime volunteer for the refuge, was compelled to do something to help.  She organized a GoFundMe page for the rescue, with an initial goal of raising $8000, which would have supported the refuge through the end of March.   

The $8,000 goal was what Tims told Gerardo she needed to pay taxes, order supplies for the store, and other basics just to keep the doors open, Gerardo said.

“I really thought that was pushing it,” she said. But when the fundraising page went live, “money started rolling in,” she said. “We got excited when we met our goal, then we doubled our goal. I want to make it to $20,000 now.”

By March 30, the page had raised $19,400.

“The more donations we receive, the longer the sanctuary can remain open,” Gerardo said.

With the extra funds, Gerardo said, Tims can plan ahead and take care of projects that have been let go, such as a new walkway for wheelchair access.

Tims’ mother started Seymour’s Bird Refuge in 2000.  When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Tims stepped up to both care for her mother and care for the birds.

When her mother passed away in 2011, she took over the rescue “because we had so many, and where do you take them with this many birds?” she said.

Seymour’s is a true labor of love.

“I can’t afford to draw a paycheck and be able to feed the birds,” Tims said.  “Pretty much anything the store does goes right back into the shelter.”

Currently, Tims said, there are about 60 birds in the rescue facility, and she has 10 birds in her home as well.

Seymour’s is the only licensed bird rescue in Maine that adopts birds out. They were the only licensed facility in the state until Siesta Sanctuary in Harmony opened, but Siesta is a retirement home for parrots and does not re-home birds.

There are strict adoption guidelines, Gerardo said, to be sure that those adopting can take care of the bird they request.

Tims said often people come in looking for a parakeet or cockatiel but get distracted by the Macaws they see in the back.

“Tunnel vision sets in, but they don’t have the experience to handle a bird with 500 pounds of bite pressure on its beak,” she said. 

Birds are more difficult than cats or dogs to re-home, she said. 

“They want to be part of the flock, so if you’re on the phone they’re screaming louder. They’re just trying to join the conversation,” she said. “That’s what they would do in nature.”

The rescue is not set up as a non-profit, and Tims prefers not to do fundraising.

“We designed this business to be self-sustaining, so we didn’t have to put our hand out every time you turn around,” she said.

That’s why the impact of the pandemic was so difficult.

 “We are gaining a little bit of ground since the GoFundMe, but we’re not where we were,” Tims said. “The GoFundMe has definitely opened some eyes.”

A story that ran on News Center Maine has also brought some regulars back in, she said.

Tims said that with the current donations, she can keep Seymour’s open into the fall. 

“Once winter hits again and we’re buying fuel oil again, things are going to start really getting tight if we can’t get the foot traffic back where it was,” she said. 

Anyone wishing to help can search the GoFundMe site for Seymour’s Bird Refuge. Bird owners can help by visiting the store and purchasing supplies.  Tims also offers limited short-term boarding for birds when space allows.

For more information on Seymour’s Bird Refuge, visit <


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