Have you ever noticed when you go in to a typical Humane Society that there are no birds…only dogs and cats? So where do all the abandoned, neglected, and homeless birds go? The Black Hills Parrot Welfare and Education Center in Belle Fourche is a shelter that houses abused, terminally ill, and orphan exotic birds.
These aren’t sounds you’d think you’d normally hear in the cowboy and rodeo town of Belle Fourche - instead you might expect to hear cow’s mooing, or horses snorting and stomping in the pastures. But here in the quiet northwestern outskirts of town sits the Black Hills Parrot Welfare and Education Center.
Greg and Cindy Poulain are certified Avian Specialists and AFA Certified Aviculturists. Greg Poulain says he and his wife saw a need for a bird-shelter – somewhere that could take in abused, terminally ill, and orphan birds. The Poulains say they developed the facility because of their mutual love for exotic birds.
“What we do is we take in the birds and we get them the necessary medical treatment, and if they’re in need of any kind of rehabilitation we address those issues, whether it be a behavior condition or even a medical condition, and we address those rehab efforts and then we find homes for them,” says Poulain.
The rescue itself looks like a normal blue house from the road, except for the multiple large outdoor birdcages. Inside are dozens of cages where the birds are separated into different rooms according to type. Poulain says his facility is rare.
“It’s the only one in South Dakota. It’s one of just a handful of facilities that have a permanent structure. Most avian facilities, most rescues as they call them, are run out of homes– they’re small. There’s a lot of really good ones out there but there’s only a handful of us that have a permanent location and there’s even less that are open to the public,” says Poulain.
There are no birds native to South Dakota at this sanctuary– only exotic birds like macaws, parrots, and toucans from faraway places like Africa, Australia, and South America.
Poulain says in addition to the sick and orphaned, he has some birds at his shelter that are rare and offer educational benefits. He says he works closely with zoos across the nation.
Some of the birds at the shelter are retired zoo show birds, another spent fourteen years in an Aflac office.
Poulain says he has as many as one-hundred birds in his care at any given time. Currently the shelter has close to that many. Most all of them have been born and raised in captivity. He says about eighteen percent of his rescued birds come from state and federal confiscations in abuse cases. But Poulain says the number one reason people bring birds to his shelter is due to lack of education. He says people are often unprepared for the mess and noise that comes with owning a bird.
In addition, he says many exotic birds can live from seventy to one-hundred years and often out-live their owner. He says people frequently will their birds to the Belle Fourche Sanctuary.
The Black Hills Parrot Welfare & Education center gets requests from owners across the United States to take in birds, and because of the volume of requests he says he and his wife couldn’t do it alone. He says he depends on dedicated fellow bird lovers and community members.
“Absolutely, we’re a non-profit. Our expenses are extremely high to take care of these birds. There can be extreme vet bills involved. I have three birds right now in need of surgery and they’ll be going in shortly but the funding is always an issue so we welcome any kind of donations whether it’s monetary or supplies, we go through a lot of cleaning supplies here. We have an outdoor park where the public is welcome to come and see the birds outside and we’re always doing improvements out there,” says Poulain.
Poulain says its hard work keeping his sanctuary’s doors open.
“We don’t have any paid staff. Every single person here is a volunteer. We log over ten thousand volunteer hours a year in the facility. It takes a lot of time just to care for the birds. Mornings consist of about four volunteers and about three and a half hours just to care for the birds and about three and a half hours just to feed, water, clean cages, and that gets done every single day, even when we’re not open to the public,” says Poulain.
Poulain says he welcomes any assistance.
Karen Hinkle from Lead is an exotic bird owner and volunteers her time gardening and weeding at the shelter. She says she also helps with fundraising efforts.
“I’ve always just wanted to volunteer. As someone who has worked with non-profits all their life, I’m very impressed with the quality of care that they give, and the commitment, so I’m very proud to be associated with the place,” says Hinkle.
Hinkle says many people don’t even know the shelter exists and she’s been trying to get the word out to increase sponsorships and support for the birds and find good homes for them.
Shelter founder Greg Poulain says that his sanctuary is designed to be a temporary home for his bird friends - He says he has a strict adoption process.
“There’s a lot to deal with when you have a bird and if you’re not prepared for it, it’s not going to be a very happy environment for either one of you,” says Poulain.
“They’re very messy, they scatter their food – that’s just a normal instinct of theirs. In the wild, that’s how the rainforest grows is they scatter the seed from the fruits,” says Poulain.
He says each adoption applicant is closely screened.
“We ask the person to come out and spend quite a bit of time with the bird to make sure there’s a good bond between the person and the bird, that they understand the requirements of the bird and that people in the family can handle the bird. So that takes some time. And then a person has to take a pre-adoption class, that’s a required class. We want to make sure that they continue the proper diet and that they’ve got the proper housing requirements for that species of bird. And we do a home inspection just to make sure that it’s a safe environment. We make sure that they have the proper cage and that they have the proper food available and that there isn’t any safety issues involved,” says Poulain.
Poulain says the birds average a three to four year stay at the shelter before finding the perfect home.
Each of the birds appears to have a distinct personality – and they seem to enjoy teasing passerby’s…
So next time you’re out in Belle Fourche and you’re looking for a fun, educational, and inspiring adventure, swoop in and say Hello.