By Sybil Erden, Founder – July, 1999

Sanctuary is commitment.

Here at The Oasis Sanctuary we receive at least one call a month from kind-hearted, idealistic aviculturists interested in starting a sanctuary for unwanted exotic birds. There is no doubt that there is a crying need for such places…but most people interested in starting a sanctuary are unclear or uninformed about what starting, running, organizing and maintaining a sanctuary entails.

A true Sanctuary offers the parrots entrusted to the Sanctuary, the guarantee of lifetime care. Sanctuary must provide stability, safety and continuity. Birds entering a Sanctuary must not leave. It is permanent placement. The owners must be assured that the birds will not be sold, traded, adopted out. They will not be bred. Other than beeing seen or shown for strictly educational purposes, the birds who reside at a Sanctuary must not “work”, i.e., must not be forced to be performers or show birds.

One of the questions we are asked most often, one that is a bone of contention for many people, is why we, as a Sanctuary, do not do any adoptions. To start with, there are already many organizations around who are dedicated to this daunting task. Secondarily, many bird clubs also have sub-chapters designed to take in and place such unwanted birds. We have opted not to do adopting out because, in order to do it properly, it must be a full time job in and of itself. Organizations that do this necessary job correctly have to maintain a cadre of volunteer homes simply dedicated to the foster care of birds awaiting adoption. They must run educational programs regularly. They must maintain either “bird fairs” or a facility where the birds up for adoption can be viewed.

When people contact us about needing to give up a bird, the first things they are asked are as follows: Why are you giving up the bird? Do you want this bird to go to a pet home, into an adoption program or into sanctuary? For the first question, we try to come up with potential behavioral or logistical solutions which would allow the person to keep the bird if that is what they really want. For the second, we suggest adoption programs closest to them, refer them to good homes with experienced rehabbers or aviculturists who are well known to us, and in the third situation, we discuss what is involved in getting their bird placed with us. More about that later…

There must be the understanding by persons wanting to start a Sanctuary of the ethical dilemma inherent in a so-called refuge or sanctuary who breeds more birds – the moral problem with taking in unwanted birds through one door, creating more birds for sale, and putting them back into the “market” through the other door, ultimately creating many who will eventually end up back at the door of the Sanctuary, abandoned, neglected, abused. We all know good breeders and the necessity to support them, but their job and role in aviculture is and must remain separate and distinct from the work of the true Sanctuary.

Sanctuary involves loving, nurturing, housing, feeding and providing medical care for the lifetime of the birds who reside there. It means insuring the birds have companionship of other birds as well as humans they come to know and trust. Since it becomes apparent that “lifetime” for many of these birds literally means lifetimes far longer than ours, and often even the lives of our children, it must become apparent that to begin a Sanctuary one needs the following elements:


A Sanctuary is very expensive to run. Before becoming incorporated and requesting a 501(c)(3) (non-profit status) from the IRS, you will need to have enough funds available to keep your organization going for a few years. To begin, you should budget approximately $20,000 per year to start. This money you will need to have on hand is NOT tax deductible at this time, since you will NOT be a non-profit for at least one year after incorporating. And then, when you begin asking for public donations and grants, it will take several years before you will bring in enough funding to support your organization. Do not make the mistake of believing you will receive a salary. Funding for salaries is extremely difficult to find.

At the Oasis we currently (November 2001) have over 335 birds in residence. Our base overhead…the food and medical care only, is in excess of $9000 per month. This does not include other necessities involved with the daily running of a business (yes, a non-profit IS a business and must be viewed as such) such as phone bills, any utilities or rent, printing and postage and so forth. And, like all non-profits from food-banks to organizations who help children or the ill, sanctuaries are constantly scrambling for funds to keep going…

Since there is no turn-over of the incoming birds, each incoming animal will need housing. In the case of small flock-birds (budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds, for examples) after quarantine and testing periods are over, they can be put into large, shared flights. But many birds will need individual housing. Here in Arizona we are fortunate. The weather is temperate in the winters so that the vast majority of our birds are housed in flights or aviaries outdoors. However, in areas where winters are harsh, this will mean that there will be an ongoing and ever increasing need for additional “bird rooms” and bird buildings.

Medical care is ongoing. Incoming birds need testing; minimally CBC/chemistry panel, Psitticosis, PBFD…and often more depending on the apparent condition of the bird, where it came from and its previous medical history. Occasionally immediate health issues such as infections, chronic illness, metal toxicosis, etc will need to be addressed. Annual Polyoma vaccinations are recommended and are expensive, even when bought directly from the manufacturer and given by staff. The minimum average cost of a medical workup on an incoming bird is around $200.

Food is the most important and the most expensive portion of our monthly budget. Seed, pellets, bird bread makings, rice, beans, fresh or frozen foods are a constant and ongoing expense. But small things such as toys and perches also need constant replacement. Although some of these items can and will be donated, it takes man-hours to make the public and the manufacturers aware of your existence and obtain these items either by donation or at wholesale cost.

A Board of Directors…

The Board must be more than the founder and his/her immediate family or friends. The people selected for the Board must be willing to put time and energy and often at the beginning of the organization, seed-money. They must have professional skills that can be utilized: accounting, media, graphics, veterinary etc.

The Board of Directors is one of the main keys to the long-term life of the organization. They make the major policy decisions. They are the ones who will ultimately continue the organization in the unforeseen event of the founder not being able to continue for health or other reasons.


A Director, the person in charge of daily operations, is of utmost importance. This person must be both well versed in care or the birds, but also be able to work with volunteers, contact corporations on phone and via letter, handle minor emergencies and so forth. The job of Director, particularly for the first 5 years while the organization is forming, will be a full time, 7 day a week job. It will of necessity be unpaid for many years. Most often the Director at this point is the founder of the institution, and often also sits on the Board.

While most of the staffing for a fledging non-profit will be unpaid volunteers, their commitment and dedication is as important, if not more so, than if they were paid. Paid staff, if any, is also difficult to find and keep. Realistically, persons working for a non-profit know they will receive approximately half the salary they could receive on the open market…and they will probably work much longer hours. Again, dedication and commitment are the keys. But, when starting a Sanctuary you must assume that there will be no money for salaries. And certainly, although you might be able to hire occasional part-time help for projects, you and your associates must have enough capital, outside income or assets to live on for the foreseeable future.

© July 1999 Sybil Erden, Director
The Oasis Sanctuary Foundation, LTD.