Hank Allen, of Raleigh, smiles as a plethora of Budgerigars land on him at The Landing Zone section of the Sylvan Heights Bird Park.

In northeast North Carolina, in the town of Scotland Neck, there are more exotic birds than people. Scotland Neck boasts the Sylvan Heights Bird Park, which features more than 2,500 waterfowl, parrots, toucans, flamingos and other nonnative birds. The park, which opened to the public in 2006, seeks to educate visitors, conservationists and serves as a resource for avicultural training and research.

The park offers visitors opportunities to view and interact with a wide range of birds, from diminutive hummingbirds to a massive Emu. The most tangible experience comes from The Landing Zone, an aviary that presents park-goers with the opportunity to feed and touch more than a dozen species of birds. Flamboyant Budgerigars, brightly colored Australian parakeets, will ride on visitors’ shoulders, heads, feet or, really, anywhere they can find a perch. American Flamingos will eat food right of your hand. Taking a cell phone photo of any of the species is easy as they have all become so acclimated to human interaction.

Aviaries throughout the rest of the park offer similar close encounters with various birds, from South American macaws to tropical turacos. Endangered species are sprinkled throughout the large aviaries and individual exhibits. Sylvan Heights Bird Park features 18 endangered species, including three critically endangered species. One such species is the white-winged duck, with a wild population estimated to be between 350 and 1,500 individuals. Avian scientists at the Sylvan Heights Bird Park work with local and international partners to study and conserve the current population and fight the trend toward extinction.

Other species highlights at the park include:

Eurasian Eagle Owls, a species of Owl so large it can take down small deer.

Flamingos, three of the six species in the world, including American Flamingos, Lesser Flamingos and Chilean Flamingos.

Saddle-billed Storks, which can grow up to 5-feet tall with a wingspan of 10 feet.

Hyacinth Macaws, the largest of the macaw species.

Whooping Cranes, whose population had dropped to just 16 by the 1940s.

The concentration of so many rare species attracted acclaimed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore to the park for work on his project, The Photo Ark ( The Photo Ark is an attempt to document all of the species currently in human care as a record of their existence and a plea to humanity to conserve them. The project has taken Sartore to 40 countries all over the world, and his time at Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a testament to the conservation work being done by the staff and avian scientists there.

Visitors to the park who wish to experience all of the exhibits should plan on at least a two-to-three hour stay. Visitors are welcome to bring their own picnics, there are a number of picnic tables located throughout the park.

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