PETERSBURGH, N.Y. — About a half-hour from Bennington is a bird sanctuary in New York that is home to about 300 birds that have been rescued from all around the world. Since the sanctuary opened in 1972, it has been a safe haven for over 1,200 birds.
Peter Dubacher opened the Berkshire Bird Paradise two years after he left the U.S. Army. The nonprofit sanctuary, funded primarily through private donations, started small “for no reason,” said Dubacher. Once he left the Army in 1970, he wanted to make a difference in the world. Once word got out about the sanctuary, the facility never stopped growing.
Most of the birds are disabled and unable to be released into the wild. Some are missing wings, eyes or other limbs. Others aren’t properly socialized to return to the wild.
Charlie, an emu, has been with Dubacher for about nine years, and Charlie is about 30 years old. He came to the sanctuary because his original owner was being foreclosed on and could no longer take care of him. Charlie stands out in his habitat because he’s about 4 feet tall and surrounded by pigeons.
Staying with Charlie and the pigeons are other exotic birds like a South American screamer. The screamer makes a lot of noise at night, but Dubacher doesn’t mind.
“I like listening to the … jungle sounds again. When I was in the army I spent a couple of years in the jungle, so that’s why I have that fixation,” he said.
When visitors approach the 30-acre property, the first habitat they see is Charlie’s, but behind that is a parrot pavilion. Dozens of birds, including several cockatoos, doves, parrots and even a toucan, call the pavilion home. As guests walk in, they look up into the apple trees where macaws like to perch. The sanctuary extends far beyond the pavilion, and shelters peacocks, ducks, hawks, roosters and many other bird species.
In the pavilion is an African gray parrot that was rescued from a dumpster, and now has a cozy spot for recovery where he can socialize with other birds.
“Everybody has a story,” said Dubacher. “We live in a throwaway society and, sadly, people — not everybody — but a lot of people have no regard for life.”
Dubacher has taken in birds from all over the world, including several eagles. One bald eagle in his sanctuary is named Victoria. She was rescued from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. The USPS shipped her from Alaska to the sanctuary.
An Afghan eagle Dubacher looks after, named Mitch, came to him from a Navy SEAL team that was stationed in Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the State Department and other government parties worked together to bring Mitch into the U.S. There are two books about Mitch’s story, “Saving Eagle Mitch” and “Feathers of Hope.”
“This is my purpose in life,” said Dubacher. “As far as everything else, I could care less.”
He’s leaving behind a legacy for his daughter, Elizabeth, to pick up later in her life, and he also has a 12-year-old apprentice, Faith, who helps out as often as she can.
He’s set up the sanctuary for success, but Dubacher is concerned with the ongoing climate crisis and how it’s affecting the birds.
“What we’re building here is for the future, because the future does not look very good,” he said. He can already see a difference in the wild birds in the area. There never used to be sparrows at the sanctuary because of the high elevation; now they’re all over the place.
With the influx of birds and inflation, the sanctuary can use all the help it can get, but Dubacher wants the main focus of the sanctuary to be education. There’s no entrance fee and visitation hours can be found at birdparadise.org. Dubacher wants people of all ages to experience what it’s like to come face to face with exotic birds and bald eagles. He’s more than happy to provide tours and share each bird’s history with any of his guests.