Chances are, Kiki the blue-and-gold macaw will be here in 2080 — and you and I won’t.
Seeing most of the 21st century sounds great, but for a bird it comes with problems. As The Perch co-owner Erik Wolf says, “It would take a miracle” for a bird like Kiki not to outlive an owner or two, and she’ll likely need several homes over the course of her life.
Homelessness can come upon large companion birds very suddenly — hundreds of parrots are surrendered to or rescued by local shelters every year — and finding good homes for them is a tricky business.
That’s where America’s first bird café comes, quite literally, to the rescue.
At The Perch, Colorado Springs’ “pet store with a purpose,” visitors can get coffee in the company of macaws, parrots, cockatoos, lovebirds, doves and parakeets, learn more about them — and even adopt one of their own.
The Perch matches healthy homeless birds with loving, permanent homes and provides education and follow-up support to the people who adopt them.
The idea for the bird café grew out of necessity from Metro Denver Parrot Rescue, which Wolf and his wife Michele, a lifelong parrot enthusiast, founded in 2013.
“We were committed to making Metro Denver Parrot Rescue a volunteer-only organization, so we were taking care of all the birds and keeping a network of foster homes,” Erik said. “That had a couple of unfortunate side effects, in that we were very dependent on foster homes, and we were quarantining a lot of birds in our own house, and there was a point where we had multiple foster birds on every level of our home.
“It was a big burden on us and the other foster homes, and if any of us couldn’t do it anymore that would’ve been the end.”
The MDPR team realized they would need a permanent facility to centralize quarantining, veterinary care, fostering and adoptions for rescued birds, Erik said.
“That way we could make sure all the birds were getting consistent care,” he said, “and that when a shelter called and said, ‘We have three birds we need you to come and get,’ we’d have a process in place that didn’t involve calling all over town to find somebody who could help us out.”
The solution came together in a particularly neat way. The Wolfs, who live in Parker and rescue birds all along the Front Range, already owned a complex on South Eighth Street, which included a furniture store that they run, and a separate building that now houses The Perch.
“Just as we were trying to figure out what to do about making MDPR more sustainable, our tenants in this building moved out,” he said. “So it was a happy accident that brought The Perch to the Springs, and a happy coincidence because this is a wonderful community for our work.
“All up and down the Front Range and in the Springs we’re very focused on our animals. We care a lot about animal welfare, about how we treat our pets, about rescuing versus buying animals. That’s a very big cultural thing here, so this seemed like the ideal home.”
The Perch sells a range of bird foods, supplies and cages approved by MDPR’s rescue vet, but its most important role is in promoting education and interaction, Erik said.
“The café serves a very specific purpose, which is to encourage people to come and hang out with the birds and learn about them,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t know much about parrots as pets,” he said. “We’re a very dog- and cat-centered pet culture in the U.S. Many people don’t know exactly how to take care of birds, and frankly some people will go and buy a bird at a store and bring it home and they have absolutely no idea, because that education doesn’t come with it.
“We build education into everything we do. The folks here love talking to customers and answering questions. A lot of people just want to come in and hang out with the birds. A lot of folks say, ‘I used to have birds and I love them, but I just can’t have one right now.’ Well, come and hang out. We have parents who bring their kids by to spend a couple of hours because they really want a bird — so here they can learn about them and decide if [adopting] is something they can do.
“These birds are social creatures — highly intelligent — and they like the interaction and this is good for them.”
Adoption can be a same-day process for small birds, and takes about two to four weeks for parrots like African Greys, cockatoos, macaws and conures, because they have more complicated needs and require a pre-qualification process.
The Wolfs established The Perch as its own entity as a for-profit business, deliberately keeping it separate from MDPR “so the success of the business could rest on us, as opposed to being on an all-volunteer nonprofit,” Erik said.
“The other reason we felt strongly about having two entities is because we never wanted that classic pet store problem, which is that the animals become inventory and you end up with an inevitable conflict of interest: ‘I’ve got to take care of these animals but I’ve also got to make money,’” he said.
“We needed to make sure when anybody came to volunteer, they were volunteering for the rescue and not for retail space, and we needed to make sure the retail space didn’t own any birds.”
MDPR owns the birds and makes the final decisions on how and where birds are re-homed, to ensure adoptions are motivated only by the birds’ best interests.
“We’re proud of the fact that we do not, and never will, sell birds,” he said. “And it’s important to us to make sure that bird care is not sales work.”
The Perch opened at the end of April and is on a learning curve — but the Wolfs say the response has been great, drawing enthusiastic visitors from all over the region. Meanwhile, they’re writing their own playbook when it comes to how to run a bird café.
“Obviously with something like this, you have no blueprint to fall back on,” Erik said.
“We’re not quite a pet store — not even a bird store — because not only do bird stores sell birds but they offer services like grooming and boarding, which we can’t do with the rescue birds here.
“We also can’t look to the pet cafés because a pet café charges admission and we don’t, because we don’t want to create an artificial barrier that prevents people from meeting the birds. We don’t want five bucks standing in the way.
“There’s a lot we’re learning as we go, but we feel good about where we’re at.”
The Wolfs agree all the hard work and learning are worth it, to build bonds between people and parrots.
“I’ve loved parrots since I was a kid,” Michele said. “I had a budgie that I cared for, and it was just a wonderful relationship. They’re so intelligent and so beautiful — they’re just amazing creatures. When a parrot loves you, it’s just a terrific feeling.”
[su_box title=”The Perch” box_color=”#005ac3″]Location: 1515 S. Eighth St.
Employees: 5 part-time
Contact: perchpets.com; 426-9818[/su_box]