Near the corner of County Roads 13 and 158 in rural Elbert County, about 12 miles southeast of downtown Parker, large, vibrantly colored parrots live on the grounds of The Gabriel Foundation.
The foundation is a “parrot welfare organization providing for the complete physical, psychological, and environmental well-being of the parrots in our care," its website says. It also arranges adoptions of parrots, with the motto: "Adopt, don't shop."
Founded in 1995 by lifelong parrot lover and avian consultant Julie Weiss Murad, the nonprofit foundation was first based in Aspen, but moved to the rolling hills north of Elizabeth in 2005. Currently, the property houses roughly 400 birds, though the foundation hopes to work its way to 350 birds so each will have more space and receive even better care.
Asked why there are so many parrots in need of homes, aviary operations manager Jessica Boone explained that many parrots live extraordinarily long lives. “Many of the birds who come through the foundation have outlived their owners," she said.
Boone also said that many of the foundation's birds come from unfortunate circumstances. “A lot of the birds come from hoarding situations, while many come from homes that cannot afford to take care of such a maintenance-heavy pet.”
Roughly 75% of the birds are adopted out, with more than 100 birds having been rescued since the start of 2021. Since the inception of the foundation, thousands of birds have come through the doors of The Gabriel Foundation and have been adopted out to families.
Staff members at The Gabriel Foundation say they work diligently to ensure that the birds they adopt out go to safe, loving homes. Before visiting the foundation for the first time, potential adopters must take online courses about parrots and parrot care.
Potential adopters are also required to visit The Gabriel Foundation at least five times to participate in bird education. On their visits, potential adopters learn about diet, enrichment and enclosures. They also do extensive touring to narrow down which bird is right for them and their family. Potential adopters are also required to provide photos of their at-home enclosures before they are able to take the birds home.
Many of the birds at the foundation have their own large enclosures, while some have chosen to pair-bond and live together. Some, like the macaws visible from County Road 13, spend a lot of their time in groups. They are divided by sex to avoid breeding.
The birds are given regular baths and are fed a varied and nutrient-rich diet comprising everything from leafy green breakfast salad to hearty nuts and grains. They also have an abundance of toys and items for chewing.
Many locals and those within the parrot community donate cardboard boxes and old phone books and newspapers for chewing. The staff and volunteers also make many of the toys the parrots regularly play with.
The Gabriel Foundation currently has 15 employees and roughly 100 active volunteers.
“I love working here because my day is never the same,” said Boone, a decade-long staff member. “I also love working around the birds because I think of them as individuals with their own personalities.”
Like many nonprofit organizations, The Gabriel Foundation has been impacted by COVID-19. Prior to the start of the pandemic, staff gave regular tours and held events for visitors. Now, tours are curtailed and visits ate by appointment; go online to thegabrielfoundation.org for information.
The Gabriel Foundation is currently seeking more volunteers and encourages those interested to visit its website to apply.
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