A Sanctuary for Exotic Birds Stays Aloft

By Giving List Staff   |   October 29, 2021

People call Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary (SBBS) Founder Jamie McLeod a warrior for good reason. She’s tough, resolute, and fiercely protective of the exotic parrots in her keep. “The birds count on me,” she says.

The last few years, however, have put her and the flock to the test. Between wildfires, a flood and mudslide of historic proportions, and stay-at-home orders, all of the Sanctuary’s on-site fundraisers as well as income-generating education programs in partnership with schools, scout organizations, and senior groups were put on hold. These dire financial straits have put in peril the Sanctuary and its 50 or so parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and other exotic psittacine species.

“Add to the local disasters a pandemic still going on after a year and a half. We’ve scrambled all of our nest eggs meant for our sustainable future,” McLeod says. “The last one’s in the kitchen cooking right now; making it to the end of the year will be quite a challenge.”

But if anyone knows the Sanctuary’s warrior-in-chief, she does not yield to any challenge facing the Sanctuary. “We have not survived a fire, a flood, and a pandemic to go down now,” she says. “Failure is not an option.”

This nonprofit has gone on an all-out campaign to reintroduce the Sanctuary to local residents and tourists in an effort to save the facility. On-site and virtual visitors can experience docent-led tours and a series of Avian Adventure programs that cover the world of parrots through the arts, sciences, literature, geography, and conservation efforts. Also offered is what Board President Leslie Rugg describes as “a spectacular behind-the-scenes package,” hosted by McLeod herself.

Taking care of exotic birds is expensive. The birds are fed fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts twice a day. Their medical needs are also costly: One hormone implant to prevent birds from self-mutilation while in captivity costs $800. The full life expectancy of many parrot species exceeds that of humans. As pets, these wild creatures are often given up once the novelty wears off, which is where the Sanctuary steps in to rescue and rehabilitate these unwanted and displaced companion parrots.

But don’t expect McLeod to cut corners to ensure her birds receive the finest care. Twenty-five years ago, Buddha, a Black Palm Cockatoo “on death’s doorstep,” was placed in Jamie’s care. The bird had belonged to the older sister of the last Shah of Iran. “After her death, the bird was not well cared for and became dangerously ill. I was asked to try to save his life, which I did,” McLeod says. “In thanks, Buddha was given to me. Here at the Sanctuary, he is treated like royalty, befitting his history and his rarity.”

Is he really royalty? “I consider him a benevolent despot,” Rugg chimes in. “He gives his attention to those who admire him.”


Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary

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Saving the Sanctuary

McLeod and Rugg have pulled out all the stops to save the Sanctuary – applying for foundation grants, requesting individual donations, embarking on a marketing campaign to tourism agencies and travel guides, and restarting docent tours. “If the pandemic allows us to stay open, we will plan fundraisers,” says Rugg, “that will bring people to the Sanctuary who would not ordinarily visit just because they love parrots.” One of the events will be a wine and chocolate pairing event, with appearances by a few of the birds. “We would host the event here at the Sanctuary,” Rugg adds, “so that people would say ‘This place is amazing! Let’s come back… and bring our friends!’”


Our goals are to create positive, enriching environments for companion parrots, minimize neglect and ignorance that lead to relinquishment, and make space for birds entrusted to us who outlive their owners.

(805) 969-1944
Founder and Sanctuary Director: Jamie McLeod

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The Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary is a life saver for parrots large and small. The Sanctuary provides a clean jungle-like environment for its parrot flock, many of whom require a therapeutic respite from their previous homes. Here, the birds have a chance to recover from the situations that caused them to scream nonstop or mutilate themselves through feather picking. Jamie McLeod and her team of well-trained professionals provide the best avian care and education on the West Coast. We are so fortunate to have the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary in our community. The Sanctuary has had my support from the day it opened, and it continues to fulfill a unique niche for all bird lovers and parrot species.
Jeanette Webber and her best feathered friend,
Xena the African grey – Timneh variety

Key Supporters

Dakoda’s Fund
Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation
Smart Family Foundation
Jeanette Webber Trust
Wood-Claeyssens Foundation
Scott Becker and Isabel Marcus
Mike and Sheila Bonsignore
Noelle Burkey
Tim Dyer and Kelly Fairwell
Janet Fulk and Peter Monge
Leesa Givot
Peter and Elizabeth Gray
Leah Lollar
Lorraine McIntire
Will and Ellen Oswald
Hal and Jodi Price
Geonine Scott
John and Laurie Tilson
Fred and Linda Wudl
Principal Officers of SBBS
Board of Directors:
Erica Brege
Nancy Brough
Leslie Crane Rugg