Our Public Engagement Manager, Cathy Lee, explores the world of birds and how can live better with these feathered friends with one of our Living with Animals community partners, Free Flight. They will be at the Museum for a live demonstration on Saturday, April 29th, from 12:00-12:30 p.m.& 1:00-1:30 p.m.

Cathy: What is Free Flight’s mission and how did it get started?

Free Flight: Our mission is to maintain a sanctuary that shelters, nurtures and re-socializes parrots, while educating the public to inspire a lasting concern for the well-being of exotic birds.

Established in 1981 as a boarding and breeding facility, Free Flight has evolved into a one-of-a-kind exotic bird sanctuary where parrots and people connect. It was benefactor Dr. Robert F. Stonebreaker’s vision to create a sanctuary for exotic companion birds that would provide a special and unique environment to raise community awareness and to encourage positive interaction with these birds.

Cathy: Can you elaborate on your sanctuary program for the birds?

Free Flight: First and foremost, we exist to serve our birds and fulfill their complex emotional, mental, and physical requirements. When they arrive, we make a plan to accommodate them as individuals, as well as how to best work through any behavioral issues that may have arisen in the former home. During their time at Free Flight, our staff, volunteers, docents, members, and general visitors are essential in their re-socialization process.

Some of the birds living with us “forever” also participate in our outreach program—visiting schools, senior centers, community events, and more. This is an excellent chance not only for them to be given a “job,” but for us to educate the public about their lifestyles and needs both in captivity and in the wild. Additionally, we also offer grooming and boarding services to the public.

Cathy: At any one time how many parrots do you have at Free Flight?

Free Flight: We house between 50-60 parrots at a time.

Cathy: How can parrots and humans live better together and what kind of symbiotic relationship can we have?

Free Flight: One of the most essential components of a healthy relationship between humans and birds is a thoughtful understanding of one another from day one. We as humans are responsible for the majority of negative behaviors that ultimately lead to companion parrots being re-homed.

In regards to parrots, it is especially important to remember that they are not domesticated like the other animals in our homes. Most of the larger parrots residing with us are just a generation or two removed from the wild, so despite being raised around humans, their natural instincts are still very much “wild.” If we understand this from the start, we can better avoid turning their natural behaviors into problematic displays that ultimately lead to the bird being labeled as aggressive, misbehaving, manipulatively noisy, etc.


Cathy: If someone is thinking about adopting a parrot what should they think about?  What does it take to have a parrot as a pet?

Free Flight:

  1. Research where the parrot is coming from. Make sure you are not supporting the illegal pet trade, which is a number one killer of parrots, an already extremely endangered group.
  2. Longevity. Even smaller species like cockatiels and conures can live to be 30+ years of age, and larger parrots like cockatoos and macaws can live to be 70-80+ years of age.
  3. Wildness. Though raised in captivity, they are not “tame,” meaning their needs and the way we approach cultivating them are very different from domesticated animals, especially predators like cats and dogs.
  4. Intelligence. Parrots average between a 1-5 year-old intelligence range. This intelligence means that they need to be kept busy constantly.
  5. Neediness/Companionship. Parrots are social flock animals which means when they are awake, they need company. They are also notoriously bad for accepting change. So, if starting a family, changing jobs, moving homes, and so on are in your future—think twice and have a game plan for how to accommodate your parrot.
  6. Financial responsibility. Parrots are expensive to care for on a daily basis, and as exotic animals their veterinary costs are much higher. It is essential to have a plan for what would happen if the owner passed away, or became financially unable to continue care for the bird.

Cathy: Tell us about your different volunteer and educational opportunities for community involvement.

Free Flight:
We have a few terrific ways to volunteer, as well as learn more about the parrots. We have a regular volunteer program (ages 18+) with monthly training dates. These volunteers help us with everything from cleaning cages and maintaining the birds’ spaces, to crafting enrichment items and feeding the parrots. We also have two docent programs, a Junior Docent Program (18+) and a Senior Docent Program (55+). Annually, we host Parrot Camp, which allows young minds to experience the parrots up close and learn all about them. We also make routine visits to schools, assisted living centers, YMCA and Boys & Girls Club camps, rotary clubs, and various community events with our Outreach Flock.

Cathy: Is there anything else about Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary that you think we should know?

Free Flight: We encourage anyone with an interest in birds to come and experience the Free Flight flock up close! Stay up to date at freeflightbirds.org, or via our Facebook and Instagram.

We hope to see you at our live demonstration with Free Flight on Saturday, April 29th, from 12:00-12:30 p.m.& 1:00-1:30 p.m.

To learn more about our relationships with the animals in our daily lives, see Living with Animals on display now.