PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park is a non-profit dedicated to rescuing exotic birds from across the country. The founder, Sandy Carl Kirkconnell, the son of a Honduran man and an American woman, grew up on a little island off the coast of Honduras.

“Carl grew up being surrounded by green-winged macaws, having them as pets when he was a little kid,” park volunteer Reed Raulston said. “His original two birds are still here today. His mother moved back to the United States, and he spent his youth here. When he retired from the Merchant Marine in 1995, he bought this property here and bought a couple of birds for his own pleasure.”

Raulston said people then started finding out he would take their birds.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but some of these big birds can live to be 70-80 years or more,” Raulston said. “Carl understood what taking in these birds meant. When you have a two-year-old with feathers that never grows up, sometimes they don’t fit in the plan anymore. For many reasons, birds are looking for a place to go because their previous owners don’t want them. That’s what Carl found out. He loved birds and would take them in, but then reality kicked in. You have to feed them, take care of them, build cages, pay the bills, all that kind of stuff. So, he opened the park.”

After passing from his battle with cancer in early 2013, a group of volunteers helped establish the park into a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to continue his legacy of saving birds and educating the public. Raulston began volunteering 13 years ago.

“I moved to the Pensacola area about 14 years ago from South Florida,” Raulston said. “I was retired and looking for something to do. Of course, my wife found something very quickly for me to spend some time at and that was at Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park. When I got involved, Carl was in his late 60s and we had about 85 to 90 birds. He needed help and it was good for me and good for him. 13 and a half years later, I’m still here.”

In a time before the internet, Raulston said Uncle Sandy’s would get maybe 30 to 40 people a month in the park. Now, they are seeing people come to the park from all over the world.

“Everything before the internet was just word of mouth,” Raulston said. “Now, we get people from Australia, Sweden, Bulgaria and all those Eastern European countries, which is kind of neat.”

The entry fee to the park is $5, but what Raulston said is that people don’t realize they are putting them to work.

“We give them a cup of food, but they don’t realize we are putting them to work by feeding the birds,” Raulston said. “They are socializing with the birds, spending time with the birds and entertaining them. It is enrichment, but it is good for those people too, because they are experiencing something that a lot of people will never get to experience.”

With only 13 volunteers for 152 birds, Raulston said the work does add up quickly.

“We are all volunteers here and don’t get paid a nickel,” Raulston said. “All of the money goes back into the park. We never have enough volunteers. Traci and I are here today and we start work at 8 a.m. We barely finish with what needs to be done before we open the gates at 10 a.m. Three or four volunteers make the day go quicker. The feeding, watering and things that have to happen every day take about two to three hours to complete.”

Traci Rickard said that the good thing about being a volunteer is that they are there for the birds.

“We are not here to collect a paycheck,” Rickard said. “We are here because we love this place and it’s one of our favorite places to be.”

The bird park has four streams of revenue, according to Raulston, the $5 entry fee, gathering feathers to sell, donations and adoption fees.

“The admission fees for June, July, August and September almost pay for the whole years necessities,” Raulston said. “Gathering feathers and selling those is actually more lucrative than you would think. Some of those tailfeathers on some of those larger macaws will go for $20-30 apiece. We don’t hand them out freely because they help keep the park open. Donations are out of the kindness of peoples’ hearts and that is always appreciated, and it always goes straight back to the park.”

Though some people do adopt some of the birds, Raulston said the bird park is not a pet store and that there is a vetting process if someone wants to rescue a bird. He said he gets more than 150 requests a year for adoption and only 12 make it through the process.

“We are one of the few places in the country that provide them sanctuary for their life,” Raulston said. “Many places will take your bird and then turn around and flip it to somebody else. They are for-profit, we are non-profit. We are not a pet store where you can throw a credit card on the table and walk out with a bird. We make people spend at least three or four sessions with the bird to make sure they can handle the bird, take care of the bird and know what they are getting into. I try to educate them on what’s going to happen when they get home. You take these birds into a house and you’re a Glade Air Freshener fan, that will kill that bird. So, we do a lot of education. If there’s any time in that session where I can tell they are not prepared for a bird, we back up.”

Rickard said a lot of times when they get the birds, they are broken hearted.

“They have lost their home and lost their human,” Rickard said. “If they are leaving here, we want to make sure that its their forever home. We want to make sure that it’s the right fit for the bird.”

For Rickard, she said she is volunteering in paradise.

“You’re in a tropical paradise with some amazing birds,” Rickard said. “They all have different personalities and are incredibly cool. How can it not be a great day here at Uncle Sandy’s? Even when it’s raining, they still have to eat. Even when it’s raining, I am happy to go out there and take care of them. It’s an amazing place and you learn so much.”

Raulston said he has come back for the last 13 and a half years all because of the birds.

“When I get here in the morning, I see a bird named Franchie, and I’ll try to hide from him, but each day he sees me and yells out, ‘Papi!’” Raulston said. “They are glad to see me. When you walk in, half the park is screaming because they are hungry and half the park is screaming because they want attention, but they are glad to see you all. It’s 152 two-year-olds screaming at you, happy to see you. They are amazing little creatures.”

For more information on Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park, click here. For those interested in volunteering at the bird park, call 850-270-2130.

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