Overwhelmed bird sanctuary seeks donations
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Taking in patients is part of Richard Nowak’s business. His latest emergency is confined to a small, gray shoe box.
“Let’s have a look at this little guy,” he says, dipping his hands in and pulling out a baby dove, found on the ground by a woman who’d rushed the animal straight to Nowak. “Poor guy’s got a hurt elbow and a scratch on his back.”
Nowak’s facility isn’t a vet’s office, and he’s not a veterinarian. His surroundings are more like a circus, with Nowak serving as ringmaster.
Nearly a hundred adult birds live in and around four buildings on a small piece of property in West Valley — the cries of roosters, turkeys, and every other bird you can imagine fills the air. Nowak says surrounding himself with these animals has been a lifelong goal.
“I had my first bird when I was six,” he said. “I started with a parakeet, and then I had parrots. From there, once I had my own home, then we had chickens and geese and ducks.”
Nowak sprouted wings, and never once looked down.
“He likes to have his ear rubbed,” he said, as he scratched the side of a peacock’s head.
Nowak found a job working at an aviary, where he saw entire flocks with no place to turn.
“We would see many people bring birds in, and there was nowhere else to take them,” he said. “So we would find the birds left in the parking lot, or the next day they’d be thrown over the fence.”
The aviary wasn’t allowed to take in injured or homeless birds, so Nowak decided he would.
“The swans in particular were on a complex with an HOA,” he said, gesturing to a small pond on his property. “They’d been there for decades, and the board decided they didn’t want to pay the maintenance on the birds. So they were trying to find somebody to take the birds before they were euthanized.”
Nowak doesn’t have any formal training. With the help of the aviary’s extensive library, he’s self-taught. Judging by the improving conditions of his patients, all his studying paid off.
“We have one in the back that came in missing almost all of his feathers,” he said, pointing to a small parrot called a “conure,” which sits quietly on a perch.
He continued, “The lady that had this bird was feeding the bird Pepsi and candy and an improper diet. The bird was pretty high-strung, seemed to be really stressed out. So first we put him in a suit, trying to get him to stop plucking himself. After he chewed off two suits, he’s decided to grow feathers, so we don’t have to put clothes on him again.”
Nowak helped found a colony for mistreated or unwanted feathered friends, called ASAP Utah, standing for “Avian Sanctuary and Protection.”
With the help of his board and a group of volunteers, his goal is to rehabilitate his birds, then find them homes so he can free up some space.
His doors opened in 2010, and he believes his is the only bird-only sanctuary in the state.
Nowak says his services are vital, and he even gets calls for assistance from other states.
His habitat runs on donations, which was just fine for a fledgling operation — but after eight years, it’s crying out for help.
“The first year, we only took in 72 birds,” Nowak said. “This past year, we have records for 961.”
Local ordinances dictate how many birds Richard can keep around at a time. As his facility became more well-known, birds began coming in every day. He’d like to purchase a neighboring property, but without more donations, he says he can’t expand.
“We just have to say ‘Sorry, we can’t take them,'” Nowak said.
But baby birds like the small dove in the shoe box are relying on Richard.
“Get some medication on that, and let him heal up, and it’s probably be another week or so and he’s gonna be trying to fly,” he said, after applying some antibiotics to its back.
So while the place may look like a circus, the ringmaster will keep running his show — until he can find a slightly bigger big top.
“It makes me happy to help these animals, because they can’t speak for themselves,” Nowak said.
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