Warriors for the Winged
Photography By Sylvan Heights Bird Park

There are currently more than 35,500 species on the verge of extinction–and 1,223 of them are birds. Many endangered avian species have another chance of survival thanks to Mike Lubbock’s Sylvan Heights bird park.

“The Waterfowl Man”
Since he was a youngster, Lubbock’s passion for waterfowl and birds has been a constant. At seventeen, he began his career working at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. This is where he became a respected researcher. He also studied different breeding methods and developed a new method that helped to save many species. Lubbock said, “I went to different places such as Africa and Australia to learn about the methods of bringing eggs back from the wild to the base to hatch and rear them.” “We had many first breedings because of this method.” Rather than trying to breed birds with natural behavior and migration patterns, hatching eggs in captivity and raising them until they reached maturity and then breeding them proved more efficient and less time-consuming.

Due to the success of this method, including bringing an Australian species of duck back from the brink of extinction in just nine months, Lubbock decided to make his own migration to the United States in 1981, with the goal of growing his collection and establishing a breeding complex. In 1989, with the help of a partner, he established the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center, which has grown to be the largest avian collection of its kind anywhere in the world.

Plum-headed parakeet

Fascinating Flocks
Over thirty years later, the breeding center and park–now called Sylvan Heights Bird Park–has 260 different species of birds, 160 of them being waterfowl, and over 2,000 birds total. Lubbock points out that the park’s unique location in North Carolina’s hilly marshlands, Scotland Neck, allows it to be used for breeding and display the many varieties of birds it has. Because there are so many species of birds around the globe, each continent has its own area and unique exhibition.

Lubbock points out that waterfowl can adapt to a variety of climates, even though many birds are from different parts of Scotland Neck. He says that waterfowl are easy to house as you can keep many species together. “They are unique because of their down feathers, which are the inner feathers that keep them warm, and make them waterproof. Even species that come from places like Africa climatize quite well.” The open water within the park is fed by well water, which keeps it at a constant 56 degrees all year long. The park shelters species such as parrots that would struggle to withstand a North Carolina winter in warm shelters until their return to their exhibits.

Victoria crowns pigeon

There is currently eleven sections to the park. These include Wings of the Tropics and Endangered, Eurasia and even a section dedicated to the three species of flamingos that are the most popular in the park. These sections allow visitors to take their time and view the various species.

Although many exhibits are enclosed in the park, Lubbock opened a separate area to allow for more interaction. He says that the Landing Zone was created because “we wanted the park interactive.” People can go in, purchase a feed stick, and interact with about 300 budgies [parakeets]. Visitors can get a close-up view of the birds as they feed from the sticks. We want to entertain and teach people .”

about the birds.

Eurasian eagle owl

Implanting Knowledge
The park’s mission and vision places education at the center of its activities. A small team of educators is available to answer visitors’ questions and provide detailed information about conservation and protection of the species displayed. The park’s breeding centre has a larger staff that is responsible for hatching eggs, raising the birds and releasing them. The center currently hatches about 1,500 birds each year.

In the past twenty years, over 650 individuals have worked at and received training through Sylvan Heights and have gone on to pursue careers in zoology and conservation–something Lubbock is particularly proud of.

Although 2020 brought many unique challenges for maintaining its educational programs, the park has switched gears to offer virtual science programs and field trips that allow preschool-age children all the way up to twelfth grade the opportunity to learn about endangered species of birds in an interactive way. A variety of programs are available that allow children to get into the natural world. They can explore the marshlands and collect specimens. Sylvan Heights also offers summer camps, which cover a variety of topics such as etymology, ornithology, and gardening.

A Safe Haven
Habitat loss is the main reason that most endangered avian species are at risk. This can be controlled, Lubbock states, but in some cases it cannot. He and his team collaborate with residents and governments to educate them about the importance of protecting endangered species in areas with high populations. Lubbock states, “If birds don’t have habitat to go back to then there is no place to release them.” “Most of the species that we deal with come from countries where developers are cutting trees to make more farmland, or for other purposes. We are trying to get them into reserve areas so we can redirect the birds .”

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For nearly all species Lubbock worked so hard for, Sylvan Heights is an ideal safe haven – giving these populations a second chance they otherwise wouldn’t have. All the while engaging and educating the public about some the most important, diverse and colorful creatures the world has to offer.

For more info, visit shwpark.com

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