The southeastern state of Florida is a land of sunshine, beaches, orange groves, alligators, and lots of retired people.
It’s also a paradise for birds: big birds, little birds, exotic birds, endangered birds and very pretty birds.
In Florida, one sees beautiful pink flamingos, those tall, long-necked water birds that often stand on one leg; snowy egrets roosting in trees in the swampy Everglades; and funny-looking brown pelicans with big beaks, that look like scoops, which is exactly what they are.
Unfortunately the most beautiful Florida birds must be kept in captivity.
They’re members of the parrot family - colorfully plumed birds that are native to the southern hemisphere but do quite well north of the equator in Florida’s semi-tropical climate.
When we visited, we found this fellow (or lady bird) to be stunning in appearance and anything but shy. (Carol M. Highsmith)
So many pet parrots and parakeets escaped and thrived in the wild that they are now flying around Florida in flocks.
But more than 300 varieties of these birds live contentedly - along with orangutans, a half-lion/half tiger, and a dangerous flightless bird called a cassowary - in a wildlife theme park called Jungle Island.
The attraction, in Biscayne Bay, between Miami and Miami Beach, began as “Parrot Jungle” in a different location 76 years ago.
An Austrian named Franz Scherr rented some dry, densely wooded land for $25 a year and started displaying and lecturing about his favorite birds.
Guess what was on that land before he got hold of it?
Not orange trees. Not alligators. A colony of 1,200 nudists. No doubt there was general agreement that the birds were better looking.
About a decade after Parrot Jungle opened, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited and met Pinky, the bicycling cockatoo. (Wikipedia Commons)
Among the small roadside attraction’s array of exotic birds was Pinky, a high-wire bicycle-riding cockatoo.
Today at Jungle Island, which actively supports Florida’s ecology movement and hosts several environmental events, members of the parrot family strut and climb and chatter with visitors.
Others fly freely in a huge, walk-through aviary and raise a racket whenever a cat sneaks in or a stray hawk circles overhead.
They don’t seem to mind when visitors affect a parrot voice and ask that stereotypical parrot question:
“Polly want a cracker?”