Dear Bird Folks,
I’ve just received a flyer advertising a new birding site that is opening in Barnstable. It’s called “Native Bird Island.” But instead of being a nature reserve, the place looks more like a zoo. Have you ever heard of this place? Do you know anything about it? –Judy, Centerville.
Oh, yeah, Judy,
I’m familiar with Native Bird Island and I’m not very excited about it, either. Here’s what I know. Since the closing of Yarmouth’s ZooQuarium in 2013, a group of investors has been looking to create a bird-related theme park somewhere on Cape Cod. The group, called Avi-World LTD, wanted to recreate something similar to Florida’s Parrot Jungle. They bought some land, secured the needed permits, and started construction. However, they didn’t realize one thing: It’s against state law to import exotic birds into Massachusetts. (Yay, Massachusetts!). The project seemed to be headed for extinction when Avi-World did something even more despicable. Instead of illegally exhibiting exotic birds, they decided to display native birds. That’s right; Cape Codders will soon be able to pay for the privilege of seeing cardinals, chickadees and goldfinches…all enclosed in cages. But if that sounds creepy to you (and it should), it’s actually worse than you can imagine. I’ll explain.
Because I’m a quasi-member of the media, I was invited to tour Native Bird Island a few weeks before the scheduled opening. I think the owners were hoping I’d help create a “buzz” about their new place. They picked the wrong guy. The park is located in East Barnstable, at the end of Sham Drive, within the confines of the old Mythical Murray’s Soccer Camp. We (the press group) arrived early and spent the next few hours getting the royal tour. I have to admit the place is beautiful (even though it’s not really an island). The parking area is large and convenient. There are no annoying shuttle buses to climb aboard, nor are they needed. Admission is $25.00 for adults, and there are discounts for children, students and seniors…but alas, nothing off for Audubon members. Upon entering, we immediately came to a large aquatic habitat, complete with streams, waterfalls, and a peaceful freshwater lagoon. The birds featured were herons, loons, ducks, and kingfishers. A wooded trail led to an enclosed oak and pine forest that was filled with an assortment of woodpeckers. We saw a pair of Downies courting and watched a Pileated Woodpecker rip apart a dead log. The huge bird was so close to us that the flying bark chips landed all over me…making my dirty sweatshirt even dirtier.
The heated wren pavilion was a real treat. Not only were the energetic wrens fun to watch, but the heat lamps felt good on this cold March day. We then stopped at a backyard bird exhibit, which was okay but nothing special. It’s set up to look like a “typical” backyard, complete with birdbaths and feeders. Eating from the feeders were a whole assortment of finches, jays and nuthatches. I guess folks from the city will enjoy this display, but to me it was like looking out of my kitchen window…only this glass was cleaner.
On the surface, Native Bird Island seems like a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. But here is where it gets ugly (at least in my eyes). In order to justify the admission fee, the park’s owners have trained birds to put on shows for the public. First a family of cardinals has to fly through a large obstacle course. That wouldn’t be too bad if the birds didn’t have to maneuver around blasting streams of water and through rings of fire. (Yes, fire.) Next they brought out six loons that were all wearing tiny sombreros for some reason. The birds had to “race” across the stage while the crowd cheered. (FYI: Loons are water birds and can’t take off from land. The best they can do on land is slide on their bellies, while frantically flapping their wings.) I guess it’s supposed to be funny, but I found it to be upsetting. But the most bizarre sight was saved for the end, when four pelicans were escorted out. The pelicans’ beaks were filled with birdseed and for the next several minutes they had to stand still while chickadees and titmice flew down and ate from “living” birdfeeders. Are you kidding me?
I might be alone here, and judging by the reaction from the other reporters on media day, I probably am, but I can’t recommend Native Bird Island. Oh sure, the grounds are stunning, and in many ways the facility is educational, but training wild birds to perform stupid tricks for stupid humans has never sat well with me. Heck, even Ringling Brothers has stopped forcing elephants to parade around in circles. Yet, in 2015, there’s a place on Cape Cod that forces loons to wear sombreros and has beautiful cardinals flying through rings of fire. Once again, are you kidding me?
Of course, not everyone sees the world the same way I do, so you can decide for yourself, Judy. Native Bird Island won’t officially open for another few weeks, but the promoters are having a free “soft” opening for all Cape residents next Wednesday. Anyone who arrives at the Sham Drive entrance, with a Cape ID (sorry, second home owners, your Florida license won’t help you here), will be given a tour at no charge. The place opens at 10:00am, but get there early to avoid the crowd. Just remember, you’ll need a Cape ID and, more importantly, it only happens this Wednesday, April 1st.