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Flocks' sake: A South Coast exotic bird sanctuary is struggling

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Caroline Feraday
Cockatoos can be very loud

They have been saving birds for decades but now they need help themselves after being impacted by a series of natural disasters and the pandemic.

It may sound like a scratched vinyl record but visitors are greeted by the sound of Chewy singing a unique version of I left my heart in San Francisco.

He’s an Amazon parrot, and one of 50 birds living at the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary in Summerland.

Self-styled “crazy bird lady” Jamie McLeod has been rehoming and rehabilitating unwanted and displaced pet parrots for nearly 30 years.

"We have been inundated with people that either want to relinquish a bird or due to life changes, they can't keep them," she said.

But she says the last few years have been some of the toughest to keep the nonprofit – one of a handful in the country who rehome parrots - going, with such limited funding.

"I can't take in any more birds or I won't be able to protect the ones that are [already] with me," said McLeod.

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Caroline Feraday
McLeod gets to know the birds personally

From the impact of Thomas Fire to Montecito mud-slides, and then the pandemic, McLeod says she’s struggling to keep the birds fed – and they don’t “eat like a bird" - the parrots need to be fed twice a day and they eat a richer, and more expensive diet than domestic bird seed.

"Those two back to back catastrophes were of such epic proportions that it was a real double whammy," she told KCLU.

"Right now we are working real hard to keep the birds fed and it's been kinda month to month throughout the pandemic," she said.

McLeod says that providing food, and paying her staff "who know how to feed them," and paying specialist avian vets, is hard after a time when fund-raising has been challenging and savings have depleted.

There’s many reasons people give up their pet parrots – not just the expense - but not many places can give them a new home.

They often out-live their owners, or are more work than their owners expected – or the cockatoos can garner complaints from neighbors as they can be loud… VERY loud, 135 decibels loud. That’s the same as a jet taking off or a klaxon.

"Their screams are made to travel across the jungle, not your home," she said.

"They live a long time, you have to make arrangements for them in your future," said McLeod. "They will outlive you, and quite often children will say, 'Don't you DARE Will me that bird!'"

"It's not like having a dog or a cat. This bird has the mentality levels of a two year old child and a life span of 80 years. That's a huge commitment."

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Caroline Feraday
Over 50 parrots are currently at the South Coast based rescue and rehabilitation center

McLeod says it’s not the birds’ fault that they are given up by their owners.

She takes time to get to know these birds personally, their diet, their quirks, and she talks to them.

"I felt a massive connection with these avian creatures and could talk to them."

They don’t just say "hello", or "who’s a pretty boy". Amazon parrot Kona says “squeeze those little birdie legs” and does a backwards countdown to an explosive sound.

It’s all very entertaining, but with a serious side, and McLeod is hoping she can raise the funds to keep rescuing these feathered friends with plenty of personality, for many more years to come.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award this year, and also won two further first place awards, for Lifestyle Feature and Personality Profile/Interview. Last year, Caroline won first place for Use Of Sound. She also won two Golden Mike Awards this year, for Best News Reporting and Best Entertainment Reporting, as well as a National Arts & Entertainment Award from LA Press Club for One-on-One interview. Caroline started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and she was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007. She moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and is both an American and British citizen. Caroline lives in Agoura Hills with her daughter - her proudest production.