Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Birds of a Feather

Caspers Ostrich and Alligator Farm wasn't the only attraction to use exotic birds to try to lure motorists off the road to spend a buck or two. Parrot Jungle, McKee Jungle Gardens, Carribean Gardens, Busch Gardens (above), and Bok Tower are just a few of the Florida attractions that featured exotic birds of some sort. Since the begining of the year, I've seen flamingoes, parrots and macaws at Homosassa Springs, Sunken Gardens, and most recently, at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

While the birds and Homosassa Springs and Sunken Gardens are really just survivors of an earlier era, they are the major attraction at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. The Gardens themselves began in the 1930s when David Lindsey turned 10 acres of swampland in Sarasota into a beautiful exotic garden, according to Roadside Paradise. It opened as an attraction in 1940 and the "Birds of the Rainforest Show" was initially performed in 1972. Many of the birds in the show were rescued from the California Prison System, when a program that used exotic birds to rehabilitate prisoners was discontinued. Some of the avian performers used in the 1970s, still perform to this day, and according to the website, Frosty the 73 year old Cockatoo once performed on the Ed Sullivan show! It may be me, but it seemed like these colorful creatures projected a kind of wise, ancient energy. In the show, the exotic birds were asked to ride a bicycle, a roller skate and a scooter. The day we were there, the trainer was forced to be extremely resourceful to get the birds to cooperate. It was almost as if the birds were playing with the trainer.

The flamingoes live on an island in the middle of small lake but wade over to the feeding area where you can buy food out of a gumball machine and feed these tall birds. There were signs posted warning of aggresive behavior due to flamingo mating season, but that didn't stop most people from going right up to them, including children much shorter than the full height of the birds. I'm told to keep their amazing coral orange color they have to get exactly the right diet. And that diet is expensive, so attractions like Bok Tower no longer have Flamingoes. I noticed that the one at Sunken Gardens were a paler pink, as the City of St. Petersberg may not be able to afford the expensive flamingo food. But the ones at Sarasota Jungle Gardens are so bright it almost seems unnatural.

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