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Free Flight
Julie Maxey-Allison | 10 Street

Jojo at Free Flight. Photo Julie Maxey-Allison.

We in Del Mar don’t have to wait for that traditional first bird of spring, the red breasted American Robin, to spot colorful feathers. Birds of many vibrant hues perch just up the road at Free Flight, a bird sanctuary that has been in business since 1981. Begun as a shelter and boarding house for exotic birds such as macaws, cockatoos, parrots and various other avians, it now also provides birds-in-need a safe haven.

These birds are not only colorful, many are smart. They can learn many skills and have savvy ways of communicating. Never to be underestimated, our avian neighbors may or may not be as quick smart as Alex, the famous African Gray parrot who lived with and was studied by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University and Harvard University. She worked with Alex for most of his life and published numerous reports of his progress and capabilities in scientific journals. Alex may have not used “language” but he was able to “talk” with a vocabulary of over 100 words. He could count up to six and was working on learning higher numbers. He was able to identify shapes and colors. He was also competent at making his wants known to his humans. Unfortunately, Alex died suddenly. Dr. Pepperberg reported that when she put him into his cage for what turned to be his last night, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.” Alex was 31, not even mid-age for exotic birds who can and do live up to 80 years and more.

Jojo again.
Photo Julie Maxey-Allison.

Smart as they are, being a long lived bird has it hazards. Many of the residents at Free Flight have outlived their owners and faced the trauma of being moved to a new, unfamiliar place to call home. Or, an owner who did not count on the intelligence of the bird or the time required for its care and attention, gave it up. Or, the bird coexisted with an aggressive cat or whatever else that can stress a bird. Some arrive at Free Flight very much in need, having pulled out many feathers, a distress signal, and are wearil. cautious of their new surroundings. The staff and volunteers work with the birds to make them healthy and safe and share information with visitors. Eventually most birds welcome a helping hand. With instruction it can be yours. You can meet, greet, feed and interact socially with birds who are willing. And you migh. pick up some phrases or carry on a bit of a conversation.

Free Flight, 2132 Jimmy Durante Blvd., is open to the public daily 11AM to 4 PM, Wednesday 11 AM to 2 PM. Birds may be cages in cold or wet weather.There is an admission charge.


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