Beyond Destin: Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Vasquez, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
This week I took a trip not only beyond Destin, but beyond my comfort zone. I must preface this article with the fact that I am terrified of birds; their sharp beaks and talons scare me. But this past weekend I decided to put my fears aside in order to visit Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park in Pensacola.
I’m glad I did, because Uncle Sandy’s is a true hidden gem. The bird sanctuary was founded in 2005 when the late Sandy Carl Kirkconnell built an outdoor aviary for his pet Macaws. Uncle Sandy was a native of Honduras where wild Macaws rule the skies and had cultured a love for the beautiful birds since birth. Soon after building the enclosure for his birds, word of the sanctuary caught the attention of others looking for a better home for their parrots, and today the park is home to 156 birds.
When Cristian and I arrived at Uncle Sandy’s we were met by a volunteer named Ron who introduced us to three indoor parrots in the office. Ron explained that most of the birds at the park are brought in by family members of a deceased bird owner. He said that it is common for birds to go through a mourning period for their owners where they often pluck their feathers out, screech, and act out to show their sadness. However, when placed in a healthy environment and in the vicinity of other birds, the parrots will slowly recover and thrive which is the mission of those who care for Uncle Sandy’s birds.
Our first stop on the tour was the aviary. Ron equipped us with tiny pails of roasted peanuts still in the shell, which is apparently the favorite snack of the Macaws. We walked into the enclosure and at first no birds could be seen. I got my camera ready as Cristian held out a peanut and slowly three Macaws began to make their way towards us by using their beaks and claws to slide along the fence. Ron told us they were a bit shy, just checking us out and would fly to our shoulders when they felt comfortable.
It wasn’t long before half a dozen Macaws had made their way over to us and soon Cristian had two parrots sitting on his shoulders. I was hoping that since I was not holding any peanuts, the birds would not land on me, but I was wrong! As I was taking a photo of Cristian, a blue and yellow feathered Macaw flew towards me and landed on my right shoulder. I cringed and Ron snapped a few incriminating photos of my apprehensive look. I quickly learned that as long as the birds had peanuts to munch, they were happy campers, but if you weren’t quick enough in replenishing their snack, they would nudge you with their beaks for another.
I could never be a pirate with a pet parrot, but all in all I would say the up-close encounter with the large birds was a success. However, if you are apprehensive like me make sure to wear long sleeves (the claws do hurt a little) and know that you can always shake your arms and the birds will fly away.
After our meet and greet with the Macaws we roamed the rest of the park and noticed that several other bird species were represented. Smaller parrots such as Senegals, Amazons and Sun Conures where housed in smaller cages near the aviary, and on the back side of the park stood two Emus named Gitcy and Itchy. Also, roaming freely throughout the establishment were a few roosters and a couple of shy peacocks and a large turkey tom. All of the birds were eager to munch on peanuts, or small apple slices, but signs clearly reading, “Birds Bite,” were posted on the cages hosting the most moody birds.
Uncle Sandy’s has a few picnic tables, a small bathroom and a swing set in the parking lot, and Ron told us plans are in the works to improve the facilities this year in order to accommodate school field trips and larger groups. Although the park is nothing fancy, it is worth a visit and is quite impressive for a volunteer-run attraction. Most of the cages are built from recycled items such as satellites, gas barrels and even truck caps, and the bright concrete walkways display the loving notes from donors to the park.
Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park is located at 9513 N Palafox Street in Pensacola. Cost is $5 per adult, and $2.50 for children aged 6-12. The park is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call 270-2130 or visit www.macawbirdpark.org.