Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, recovering from fire and flood, subject of uplifting short film at SBIFF

At this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, only one of the 71 films in the Short Films category highlights a local community that’s been impacted by the Thomas Fire and the subsequent mudslides. “Under Her Wing”, a 20-minute film created under the UCSB Carsey-Wolf Center’s GreenScreen program, tells the inspiring story of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary and its tireless work to rescue displaced parrots and provide winged hope for the local community. This heartwarming and entertaining tale of talking birds and their charismatic caretakers premieres at 5 p.m. on Monday, February 5 in the Arlington Theater.

​Jamie McLeod, Founder and Director of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, giving and receiving comfort by Tutti Frutti, her rare miniature toucan.
Photo contributed

For 15 years the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary has inspired a sense of wonder in the natural world by charming its visitors and audiences with colorful and comical parrots. Companion parrots can live 20-80 years and develop the intelligence of a 5-year old child including the ability to talk, sing, dance, and count numbers. But their longevity and complex social needs can make it difficult for people to provide the best care over their lifetime. The Sanctuary is a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates unwanted, abused, and displaced companion parrots. Once rehabilitated, the most talented birds are featured in public education programs.

The Sanctuary’s home base in Summerland was threatened when the Thomas Fire swept across the region in December. Dozens of volunteers arrived on site to evacuate 80 parrots to safe satellite locations. The fire then chased the birds and threatened their satellite locations, ultimately forcing two additional rounds of evacuations before the birds could safely land to roost in Ventura. When evacuations lifted and the air cleared, the birds were brought back to their home at the Sanctuary only to get hit by the mudslides. The Sanctuary itself was spared from flooding, but its neighborhood was essentially an island surrounded by several feet of mud and mountains of debris. With impassable roads and isolated birds requiring daily care, heroes emerged from the community – a neighbor of the Sanctuary’s Director traded in a luxury car for a Velociraptor 6×6 truck to get her to her birds, and law enforcement cleared permits for staff to cross the mud to tend the flock.

“The Thomas Fire burned through operating funds intended for this year, and the floods washed away even more,” said the Sanctuary’s Founder and Director, Jamie McLeod.

With the Sanctuary closed for nearly two months, critical revenue from visitor fees and donations vanished at a time when there was a massive accrual of staff overtime pay. “We are hoping that the Santa Barbara community – our friends of the flock – will come see our film and be inspired to help these delightful birds”.

Jamie, Sanctuary staff and volunteers, and even some of the parrots will be at the premiere of “Under Her Wing” premiere. To raise crucial funds for this year’s operating expenses, they will be taking orders for their new coffee table book and promoting their crowdfunding campaign on where an anonymous donor is matching donations up to $25,000.

The Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of unwanted, abused, and displaced companion parrots.

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