DEL MAR, Calif. — From dawn to dusk, squawks of beautiful birds fill the air, their colorful feathers fluffing in the wind at Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Del Mar.
The jungle by the sea is a place where bird lovers can interact with and learn about magnificent creatures. It’s here that dozens of parrots find new life in a loving home. Some were neglected, others surrendered — but at Free Flight, they thrive.
The youngest is a year and a half, the oldest is almost 70 years old. Some are shy, others are hams. One of the friendliest is Red, a green wing macaw on the sanctuary’s outreach team. The handlers say he’s great with kids and also a bit of a flirt.
Lauren Cooper, a volunteer, explained Red’s behavior when FOX 5 first showed up.
“He’s fluffing up a bit, looking like he wants to regurgitate which in parrot language is, ‘hello, I can provide for you, would you like to see?'” Cooper said.
Another parrot named Baby Bird also likes attention.
“In our summer season especially she’ll get all wound up and do laps and then flip over and take a nap,” Cooper said.
And just like people, several of the parrots are very talkative and even bilingual, greeting people with “hello” and “hola.” Another bird, Midori, likes to sing and can mimic the sound of a phone ringing. And with more than 40 parrots under one roof, feathers definitely fly.
Handlers say it’s like running a daycare with the hormones and tantrums mixed in with cuddles.
“It’s kind of like a mix of kindergarten with their mental intelligence and also a high school because they’ve got a lot of hormones,” Cooper said. “There’s jealousies, rivalries all of that so they keep you on your toes, there’s never a dull moment … some of their manipulative behaviors very much surprise people. They know how to work us like toddlers do, they can select buttons that they’ve learned.”
But all play aside, there’s one simple message for everyone who visits: to know these birds are highly intelligent, affectionate, life-long partners.