YouTuber helps Bird Gardens of Naples spread its wings

Bird Gardens of Naples isn't as well known as its nearby neighbor Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It doesn't appear on a list of the top things to do in Naples, and it's not a place where out-of-towners can go in hopes of glimpsing a gator.

A YouTuber is helping put the bird sanctuary on the map and raise the money it needs to continue its work.

Bird Gardens of Naples is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the welfare of parrots in captivity and the conservation of wild parrots. Keriellen Lohrman started the organization eight years ago to provide a home for birds that are abandoned, abused or in need of a home for any reason.

"I used to raise birds for the pet trade and then I just got out of it because there were just so many birds in rescue," she said. "I loved the birds though and didn't want to get away from them ... so I just went from raising birds to being a rescue."

Keriellen Lohrman, center, leads visitors on a tour at Bird Gardens of Naples on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Lohrman lives on the property and cares for the birds daily.

Bird Gardens of Naples currently has about 200 birds and 50 different species, Lohrman said, but those numbers change daily as new rescues come in or birds are adopted out. Most of their birds are former pets whose owners either died or couldn't properly take care of them.

"People don't realize that certain species of birds can live to be 100 years old, and a lot of people also don't understand that birds can't just live on a diet of seeds and nuts — they need fruits and vegetables just like we do," she said. "I had a bird go into the vet the other day that was critically malnourished because it lived on peanuts and sunflower seeds."

That's why education is another important mission of the organization's volunteers, said Jen Budrock, a full-time volunteer who lives on the property.

Keriellen Lohrman, owner of Bird Gardens of Naples, poses with one of the sanctuary's many residents. The nonprofit is currently raising funds to help cover the birds' veterinary care, aviary construction and improvements, bird toys and food.

“If you teach people to do the right thing, they’re inclined to do it. People don’t realize how smart, how long-lived, how sensitive, how needy, how loud, how bitey birds can be, so they get them on impulse thinking they’re just decorations going, ‘Peep, peep, I’m pretty!’ but no," she said.

"They will test your patience, they will hurt your eardrums, but you know what, it’s not their faults. It’s just their natural behavior and they deserve a lot more love.”

Budrock is also an animator and runs a Twitter and Instagram page where she shares drawings and comics of one of the sanctuary’s special needs birds, Cody the Lovebird. Between the two accounts Cody has more than 25,000 social media followers.

"He has more followers than all of us combined," Lohrman said with a laugh.

The social media accounts caught the attention of fellow bird lover and YouTuber Jaiden Animations. The Jaiden Animations YouTube channel has more than 6.3 million subscribers and 782 million video views.

Jaiden Animations made a video about Bird Gardens of Naples and set up a GoFundMe to help support the nonprofit. The video has more than 4 million views and in just nine weeks the GoFundMe raised $22,774, more than doubling its goal of $9,200. 

That money will go toward building four new flight cages, which cost $2,100 each, food — which costs $5,700 every four months — veterinary bills and toys, which are a constant need.

“(The birds) are highly intelligent critters, so they need that stimulus, but they’re also destructive, so we’ve just got to keep buying (toys),” Budrock said.

“We’ve gone through two batches this year,” Lohrman added. “And it’s only June.”

Lohrman said she hopes to do some more fundraising in the future to help the nonprofit buy the land that it's on. Lohrman and her husband are currently leasing the land, which she estimates will cost between $800,000 to $1 million to buy.

"My husband and I don't want to purchase it ourselves because then it's ours and if something happens to me or my husband, who's had stage four cancer, then what? Would it still be the Bird Gardens of Naples?" she asked. "So what we want to do is raise enough funds for the nonprofit to purchase the property. That way it won't belong to me or my husband, but to the birds."

To further ensure the organization's future, Lohrman said she also wants to create a full-time salaried position. Currently the nonprofit is operated entirely by volunteers.

"I would like to have a salaried position here because I have to ensure somebody taking this over and that somebody's going to have to be young," she said. "So to get the proper help here, I'd like to have a salaried position."

In the meantime, Lohrman said she's "always looking for volunteers." 

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Bird Gardens of Naples

When: Tours are generally at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, but reservations are required and some dates may vary. Call ahead for reservations.

Where: 1060 Purple Martin Dr.

What to bring: Bug spray, comfortable shoes, unsalted nuts (no peanuts).

Cost: Free, but donations are welcome.

Contact: Visit birdgardensofnaples.org to schedule a tour or call (813) 841-1911