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Cumberland refuge a sanctuary for birds, people

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Cumberland refuge a sanctuary for birds, people

CUMBERLAND — Parrots were a source of love and comfort for Nancy Tims long before they took over her life and most of the rooms in her house.

Tims, who started Seymour’s Bird Refuge in 2000, moved most of her large flock to a handsome wood building on Route 100 last fall.

“We got our first birds when I was 8 years old, two parakeets and a conure,” said Nancy’s adult daughter Andrea Lowery, who works with Tims. “I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was.”

In 2000, Tims, then general manager of Keeley Crane Services in Portland, read about a man in Massachusetts who opened a shelter and was inundated with birds.

“It looked like there was a need, so I contacted the state of Maine to see if I could (start) one,” Tims said. She had several birds at the time, including Seymour, a myna. But having a bird or two in the house is a lot different having dozens, as Tims soon realized.

She got the license and people began surrendering birds, one after another, until her house filled up. “I kept looking for property thinking if I had a retail store I could sell products and support the shelter,” she said.

She bought a small house zoned for business, with a bit of ground to one side of it, on Route 100 near Blackstrap Road. She sold bird supplies and had space for small birds. Her house remained parrot central.

Three years after opening that shop, she realized she needed a much larger facility, and not in her house. In July of 2009 the town gave the OK to build Seymour’s next to the former shop, which was later torn down. After a hiatus due to illness, work began in earnest, with Nancy’s husband Gary Tims supervising construction. Last November, Tims’ flock moved into their new home.

The new facility is brightly lit and clean, which is saying something considering the mess one bird can make in the flick of a beak. There are anywhere from 45 to 50 birds in Tims' care on any given day, some available for adoption.

Tims is unwilling to hand over a parrot to just anyone. She requires references and has traveled long distances to inspect homes of prospective adoptees. “I try to place as many as I feel comfortable with,” she said.

Although the retail shop is open four days a week, the shelter is a seven-day operation. Mornings, the birds clamor for attention and food. Tims and Lowery, with the help of volunteers, prepare and serve them varying combinations of seeds, nuts, fruit, pellets and fresh water. They sweep, dust, and scrub bird poop, hoping to be done by 11, when the shop opens for business.

Although the retail space, full of bird food, supplies and cages, is separated from the shelter by a wall, visitors can see the birds through a large window. Tims will sometimes accommodate visitors who want to see the birds up close.

“It’s not a zoo,” cautioned David Duval, a long-time customer. “This is a place for birds who have been abused by humans.”

Many people are unaware of the work and commitment involved in caring for parrots.

“Birds live a long time, much longer than a dog or cat,” Tims explained. “They gravitate to one person who becomes their favorite and they won’t be so nice to the rest of the family.”

Feeding and sheltering a flock isn’t cheap or easy. “People don’t appreciate what a terrific sacrifice it is on her part,” said Steve Bunker, a regular customer. “The time, dedication and financial support she puts into this is just remarkable. I don’t know how she does it.”

“It’s a struggle,” Tims admitted. “We got more donations before we moved in here. People see this place and think we have all this money.”

After more than a decade of operating Seymour’s, Tims is looking into non-profit status.

For her, Seymour’s is a labor of love in the most literal sense. Her customers understand.

“Seymour’s is very important as a place to hang out with other bird people," Duval said. "It’s a refuge for people as well as birds.”

Sharon Bondroff is a freelance writer who lives in Gray.