The Beautiful Birds of Free Flight

Parrots and cockatoos and other fine feathers call the Del Mar sanctuary home.

FAMOUS FEATHERS: Free Flight, the exotic bird sanctuary in Del Mar, is one of those funny famous spots that everyone has heard of, if they've lived in Southern California any time after 1981, but not everyone has visited. Frequent visitors -- let's call them super-serious fans, really -- are those people who keep and love exotic birds, those majestic parrots and cockatoos that are long of tail feather and bright of eye. (Yep, we had to go greeting-card-y there for a second; just wait until we start describing the birds' spectacular hues.) But other people find the peaceful, fairgrounds-close nook, even if they don't have a pet at home that happens to have wings. It's a fine way to see some stunners up close, very up close. And by stunners we mean Macaws, Moluccan Cockatoos, and White-Bellied Caiques, among others. These are some big birds, which means that if they step onto your forearm, you'll immediately know that isn't a canary or finch you're suddenly carrying.

OH, DID WE MENTION... that visitors are permitted to invite some of the resident birds onto their arm? It's a thrilling moment, if the bird chooses to accept (though, like the Free Flight FAQ says, your new feathery friend might opt out, instead wanting to eat or do their own thing). We visited the sanctuary with a confident bird lover, but if you're new to handling birds, you might ask a volunteer to accompany you to one of the perches. Cameras are welcome, too, so helloooo social media update. (Birds are hams for that sort of thing, right?) Cost is five dollars for an adult. Free Flight is open seven days a week. If you're a big bird buff, you might look into some of Free Flight's programs, like adoptions and companion animal support.

AND WHY WE MENTIONED 1981: That's when Free Flight opened. Some birds famously have long lives, thriving for decades, so it makes sense that a place that debuted as a "boarding and breeding facility" transformed into a safe place for birds seeking adoption, recovery from illness or injury, or just a place to live. Call them the longtime avian ambassadors of SoCal.

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