Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Sylvan Heights Bird Park, North Carolina

two flamingos Sylvan Heights Bird Park

The goal:  hand-feed some birds.

The reality:  Belly laugh as a flock of parakeets land on me to investigate my jacket, my hair and my camera lens.

Blue parakeet perched on an arm at Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Parakeet perched on my arm at Sylvan Heights Bird Park

If you have ever wanted to be a bird perch, then visit the “Landing Zone” exhibit at Sylvan Heights Bird Park.  Immediately upon entering the exhibit, the parakeets swarm around me.  Some land on my arm.  Some land on my camera.  One lands on my head.

I pull out the feeding stick – a Popsicle stick with bird seed attached to it. Instantly, the number of birds using me as a roost doubles.  Some birds peck at the seeds.  Others wait on the ground below for the seeds to come to them.

Parakeets are often seen at pet stores and perhaps you have one as a pet at home. Yet, having the bright turquoise, stunning yellow and vibrant green colors swirl around you is a completely different experience.

The birds are so lightweight that I do not always know when they are on me.  A pecking sound has me swiftly checking my camera lens.  A good reminder to always keep one hand free to gently shoo away birds that are approaching an unwanted area. Before leaving the exhibit, the keeper inspects me to ensure that there are not any stowaways on my back.

Hand-feeding the flamingos inside this exhibit is also allowed.  Sadly, I do not have enough hands to keep the parakeets away from the camera and hand-feed the flamingos simultaneously.

The Park

Sylvan Heights Bird Park is the public-facing part of the Sylvan Heights Breeding Center.  According to park’s website, the breeding center has been in operation at the Scotland Neck, North Carolina location since 1989.  The center that allows the public to visit has been open since 2006.

variety of birds at Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Sylvan Heights Bird Park

It is an easy 90 minute drive from Raleigh, North Carolina.  As you approach the park, cotton fields line the road.  During the fall, bales of cotton are stacked in the field and the road shoulders are littered with loose cotton that has escaped the harvesting process.

The outdoor park is about 18 acres in size with a trail winding through various aviaries.  An aviary is as enclosure where birds are kept. Some of the enclosures contain a bird or two behind tight-net mesh fences.  These birds are visible, but some distance from you.  Many of the aviaries are, unexpectedly, walk through.  There are gates to pass through for the visitors.  At first we hesitate — are we really allowed to go through that entryway? Then we realize that except for the few “park personnel only” signs, visitors are welcome to walk into the actual aviary.  Netting over the roof as well as gates keep the birds segregated by geographical region – e.g. South American birds are partitioned from the African birds.

In some of the aviaries, the birds keep their distance from us or are separated by additional fencing. In other aviaries, the birds fly past my head with a whoosh of wings.  It seems they are inspecting the humans like we are inspecting them.  Maybe they are hoping we have a food handout (which isn’t permitted) or maybe they figure we are an interesting species who needs closer scrutiny.  As I was watching a Firefinch, a Violet Turaco bird swooped in and landed three feet from my head to watch me. Who is the spectator in this scenario?

The park also contains a nature trail and a blind overlooking a wetland area.  Lifting the little window covers, we peer out hoping to see a deer or free bird.  However, it was mid-day so no wildlife were visible.   There are signs along the trail that advise taking a quiet approach to the blind.  As I rustle the leaves on our approach, it was proposed that I may not have been a great hunter in my past life.

The park’s website suggests that two hours is the usual amount of time visitors spend there.  I would recommend planning for four hours so you have time to take photographs as well as sit and watch the bird antics.

Food can be eaten in the picnic area.  The park does sell snacks and drinks but you can bring in your own lunch as well.

Who Should Visit

The park offers the opportunities to be outdoors, learn about different bird species, and feed the parakeets.  Most people would enjoy some aspect of the park.

The next time you are looking to entertain guests or spend some time outdoors with your family and children, check out Sylvan Heights Bird Park.

Fast Facts

  • Name: Sylvan Heights Bird Center
  • Location: 500 Sylvan Heights Park Way
  • Family friendly: yes
  • Cost:  $.  Consider a membership if you intend to visit any other facilities they are partnered with in the same year.