Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Holidays from Sylvan Heights!

This month, as you entertain out-of-town family and friends, why not stop by Sylvan Heights for a little Christmas magic? We’ll be celebrating the "12 Birds of Christmas" through the end of December. Visitors will enjoy a scavenger hunt throughout the park as they look for swans a-swimming, french hens, calling birds, and many others. A wonderful treat for children and adults alike.

And if you are looking for some unique holiday decorations or gifts for those people on your list who seem to already have everything, be sure to stop by our well-stocked gift shop. You’ll find everything from books and toys for children to jewelry and clothing for adults to elegant home decor. Don’t forget to check out our beautiful ornament collection as well.

With the arrival of winter, the park has changed its hours. Visitors are now able to enjoy the park from 9 am until 4 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. We will be closed on Christmas Day.
We’d like to extend a heartfelt "thank you" to all of our visitors, volunteers and supporters. With your help, the waterfowl park has been able to continue developing its education and conservation programs, while also providing quality family entertainment.

From all of us at Sylvan Heights, we wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Full Schedule at Sylvan Heights

With the arrival of November comes a sigh of relief for all the staff here at the Park. October proved to be one of our busiest months in terms of special events. At the beginning of the month, we welcomed members of the American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society as we hosted one day of their busy conference. Over 50 members toured the park and enjoyed lunch provided by Down East Animal Refuge. You can learn more about the APWS by clicking on the link in our sidebar.

A week later, the Bird’s Nest Treehouse was christened with its first wedding. Beautiful decorations and newly installed lighting helped to create the perfect atmosphere for an evening wedding, after which guests returned to our Golden Leaf room in the Park’s Eco-center for an elegant reception. (To learn more about wedding event opportunities at the Park, contact Jo Ann at 252-826-3186.)

The following day, Sylvan Heights held a fundraiser to benefit our new Interactive Exhibit, which is scheduled to open next year. TV personality and wildlife conservationist, Joan Embery, gave a fabulous presentation, which included video clips of some of her appearances with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, as well as David Letterman and Jay Leno. Afterwards, guests were able to meet Ms. Embery in person while enjoying wine and cheese.

Later that week, we hosted a second conference. Over 60 members from around the country and Europe attended the International Wild Waterfowl Association Convention. Members spent the day visiting the Park and enjoyed special behind-the-scenes tours of the Breeding Center next door. A most delicious lunch was provided by the Friends of Sylvan Heights, and the Park would like to thank them for their dedication and effort. During the day, conference attendees were also treated to two magic shows by famed magician, Brian Staples. That evening, a catered dinner was followed by an energetic live auction, which featured numerous waterfowl-themed items such as books, paintings, house wares and more. You can learn more about the IWWA by clicking on their link in our sidebar as well.

Sylvan Heights’ staff members attended the IWWA’s banquet the next night, and we were all delighted when the organization honored two of our employees with prestigious awards. Nick Hill, Curator of Sylvan Heights’ Breeding Center, received a certificate on behalf of Mike Lubbock and Sylvan Heights Waterfowl for the first breeding in captivity of Chinese Mergansers in North America. In addition, Brad Hazelton, General Curator of S. H. Waterfowl Park, was awarded the Southwick Memorial Award for his illustrious efforts in establishing a new species (lesser flamingos) in captivity.

And lastly, we’d like to congratulate our director, Mike Lubbock, who has recently been elected president of the Carolinas/Virginia Pheasant and Waterfowl Society. The CVPWS is an organization dedicated to educating the members and public in preserving and the propagation of all varieties of pheasant and waterfowl.

Friday, September 25, 2009

You're Invited....To an Evening with Joan Embery

The Friends of Sylvan Heights would like to extend a special invitation to all of our Park’s members to join us on Sunday afternoon, October 18th, for a fundraising event. Famed wildlife conservationist, Joan Embery, will be here to share her experiences and passion for animals with personal accounts and anecdotes.

Ms. Embery’s presentation will begin at 4 p.m., after which wine and cheese will be served and guests may meet Ms. Embery in person. Tickets are available for $100 per person, but space is limited, so please purchase your tickets promptly. Proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit the new Interactive Exhibit at Sylvan Heights. Tickets may be purchased by calling 252.826.3186 or by emailing

Joan Embery has served as a champion of environmental and conservation issues around the world, most notably as spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of San Diego. She has had the opportunity to express her passion for animals with a multitude of audiences from youth to veterinary students to corporate executives. Her work includes hundreds of television shows as diverse as "The Tonight Show," "CBS This Morning," PBS programs, "Hollywood Squares," "Mr. Rogers," "Entertainment Tonight" and her own syndicated series "Animal Express" and "Animals of Africa."

In addition to her many public appearances, Joan has led wildlife expeditions to such exotic locales as Africa, China, Nepal, India, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Thailand and the Amazon. She has also authored several books. As a dedicated animal and environmental advocate, Joan spends her time working with wildlife organizations and educating the public. She serves on many boards focusing on conservation and wildlife issues.

A San Diego native, Joan studied zoology and telecommunications and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication. While Joan is most well known for her work with exotic animals, she is also an accomplished horsewoman, having won trophies in almost every discipline from dressage to cutting and driving to jumping. She lives on a 50-acre ranch in Lakeside, California with her husband Duane Pillsbury where she has raised and trained Quarter horses, Miniature horses, Lipizzans, Warmbloods, Mules, Clydesdales, Percherons, and her California State Grand Champion Brahman Bull, Bruiser. She also manages a community equestrian facility.

In 2004 Joan created her own non-profit foundation, The Embery Institute for Wildlife Conservation, with the mission of connecting people to wildlife and conservation issues and the role each individual plays in insuring healthy environments.

To learn more about Ms Embery, please visit her site at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Species Highlight: Poison Dart Frogs

If you haven’t had a chance to stop by the park and see our new tree house, now is an excellent time. The mad heat of summer has ended, only to be replaced by gorgeous weather that makes wandering through the park a heavenly treat. And visitors are not the only ones enjoying the cooler temperatures. Everywhere you look, the park’s residents seem to have awakened from their summer slumber and have begun their social dances; birds are splashing in the water, flying around the aviaries, and vocalizing to one another.

The new tree house is a special place, allowing anyone who enters a bird’s eye view of the wetlands below. Songbirds flit among the trees at eye-level, as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds, some of who take an occasional interest in the tree house visitors.

But along the path to the tree house, visitors are in for a surprise when they pass the new building housing restrooms. What’s that you say? A surprise in the restroom? Well…sort of. As you enter the building, you’ll find a small foyer displaying three exhibits: carnivorous plants, a live beehive, and poison dart frogs!

All three are fascinating (seriously, who doesn’t love a good Venus Flytrap?) and worth the stop. The most popular exhibit may be, though, the one housing the Blue Poison Dart Frogs (Dendrobates azureus). These active little frogs are quickly becoming a park favorite. Unlike most amphibians, these frogs are diurnal, or active during the day, and their bright blue color is stunning.

Despite their name, these frogs are, in fact, NOT poisonous. Not in captivity anyway. According to scientists, their toxicity is apparently derived from their diet in the wild. It’s possible that the ants, termites and beetles that they consume are, in turn, carrying plant poisons from their own diets. Here at the park, the frogs are fed a diet of fruit flies and pinhead crickets for the most part.

Found on only a few small islands of Southern Surinam, the azureus prefer to live near small streams with heavy vegetation – including moss, lichens and such. Their vivid coloration serves as a warning by signaling their toxicity to potential predators. (However, the only natural predator of most of the poison dart frog family is a snake called Leimadophis epinephelus, which has developed a resistance to the frogs' poison.)

They are proficient climbers, so when you are looking at the exhibit, be sure you look up towards the top as well as the crevices under the rocks and logs. These frogs are fascinating to watch, because they are usually very active. In addition, the often seem to “walk” on all fours, instead of the typical hopping behavior that most fogs use. Surprisingly, they are not great swimmers, so the water level of their pool is deliberately kept shallow.

The frogs have an elaborate courtship that begins with the male vocalizing to attract a female. If she is receptive, the female will then stroke the male’s back with her front legs and follow him around until they find a suitable nesting area. After laying her eggs, the male will guard the nest and even add water to the clutch to hydrate them. About two weeks later when the eggs hatch, the male will crouch down, allowing a few tadpoles to wriggle upon his back and then carry them to a water-filled cavity to continue their development.

For more fascinating information about poison dart frogs, check out

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flamingos: Some of the Toughest Birds on the Planet

To most, flamingos are tall, even delicate looking birds. But did you know that these fabulous creatures inhabit – and even thrive in – some of the most inhospitable places on the planet?

Lesser flamingos, for example, live in the Rift Valley soda lakes of Africa. Here they drink water from volcanic springs with temperatures near the boiling point! And temperatures can soar up to 154 degrees F – a harsh environment, don’t you think?

In fact, naturalist Leslie Brown who was the first person to discover a lesser flamingo breeding area, attempted to wade through the caustic water and mud to get a closer look. He received chemical burns on his legs that required three skin grafts and left them scarred for life.

On the other side of the spectrum are the flamingos found in South America. Chileans, Andeans and James’ flamingos can all be found living high in the Andes, where they survive temperatures that can dip to minus 20 degrees F - Yikes! In fact, a recent PBS show (Nature) which featured the Andes in one of their episodes, had incredible footage of a flock of flamingos roosting in one of the high altitude lakes. At night, temperatures plummet and the surface of the water freezes trapping the flock until morning when the sun rises and melts the surface of the lake.

These three species spend much of their time living on the Altiplano salt flats feasting on the brine shrimp and algae that flourish in the caustic waters of the volcanic lagoons. Amazingly, the flamingos’ long, skinny legs are completely unaffected by the burning and destructive waters, though they take care to rinse their feathered bodies in the nearby freshwater lakes. They also drink heavily from these freshwater sources because their feeding lagoons are not suitable.

In addition, the flamingo’s beak is highly specialized with bristles on their tongue and lamellae (or comb-like structures) on both the top and lower beaks. This allows them to efficiently filter out the tiny nutritious food particles from the caustic waters, thereby minimizing their ingestion of harmful substances such as sodium hydroxide.

So next time you visit the park and see our flamingos on exhibit, instead of thinking palm trees and sandy beaches, perhaps you might think volcanic springs and freezing lakes!

To check out more incredible footage on these amazing birds, visit the PBS web site featuring Nature’s episode, Andes: The Dragon’s Back.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this second installment of our "Pink Link" series!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Everyone's "Buzzing" Over the Grand Opening of Phase II

Today, Park staff breathed a huge sigh of relief after the grand opening of our "Phase II" expansion area. All of you can finally see for yourselves, the results of all the construction that has been going on for the last several months. In the northeast corner of the Park, the state’s first wheelchair accessible tree house is now complete. Stop by and get a bird’s eye view of our natural wetland area from our beautifully built tree house. Along the path there, keep your eyes peeled for native wildlife. Already today, visitors spotted a pair of bobwhite quail strolling through the forested undergrowth.

On the way to the tree house, you’ll find a building that not only houses our new restrooms, but also displays three new exhibits: native frogs, carnivorous plants and…BEES! If you’ve never seen a live beehive before, but have wondered what one looks like on the inside, you’ll love our new honey bee exhibit. Over 25,000 bees have settled into their new home and visitors can watch them busily building honeycomb and storing honey through a glass partition. You might even try your luck at finding the queen (hint: she has a tiny green dot on her back!)

More exhibits are planned for our newly expanded area, so come back often…you might be surprised at the new animals you find!

To view WNCT’s piece on the grand opening, you can visit the video section of our web site here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hawaii's State Bird: The Nene Goose

The largest native land bird on the islands, the Nene is the state bird of the Hawaii. Though it is most commonly known by its Polynesian name, the Nene is also sometimes called the Hawaiian Goose or the Lava Goose. It is the only waterfowl exclusively adapted for life on lava flows with longer, stronger legs and almost non-existent webbing on their toes to increase their agility. In fact, Nenes and Magpie Geese are the only two waterfowl with greatly reduced webbing on their feet to the point of being nearly non-web-footed. Thus, the Nenes are better suited for their life along the rough and uneven volcanic slopes.

Despite their close relation to the Canada goose, Nenes are distinct among the northern geese for their sedentary lifestyle. They are non-migratory and, in fact, are less inclined to fly than any other goose. Because their breeding season is not triggered by a lengthening photoperiod, their breeding season is very long (August to April) and they have the longest incubation period (29-30 days) of any goose. Even though goslings are quite large upon hatching, they are slow growers, and their mortality rate is the highest of all geese.

Although their highland habitat is can be quite humid with clouds and dew, water is often only available in small, temporary pools and so this goose is not a very adept swimmer. They prefer to browse shrub-like vegetation and their upright body structure allows them to reach quite high.

Physically, these birds appear quite alert and inquisitive. Their dark faces contrast with their buff colored necks that are deeply furrowed by the feathers on their neck, which gives it the appearance of dark, wavy stripes. Their softly spoken "ne" vocalizations, quickly capture visitors’ attention at the Park and they often race up to visitors, hoping for a hand-out of duck food, or some potatoes, which they occasionally receive as a treat from the Animal Staff.

This delightful goose was on the edge of extinction by 1949, with only 20 to 30 birds remaining in the wild and less than 20 in captivity. As with many endangered species, uncontrolled hunting pressure and the introduction of non-native predators quickly took its toll on the population. However, careful management and propagation of captive birds and release programs have greatly helped this species to survive.

Today, Nenes remain at risk, however, the future seems brighter thanks to the efforts of private breeders and their collaboration with waterfowl organizations and researchers.

*To learn more about this great bird, check out Frank Todd’s Natural History of Waterfowl, from which most of this information was pulled.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

White-faced Whistling Ducks

There are eight clearly defined whistling-ducks in the world today. I say clearly defined because, due to some anatomical and behavioral similarities, the African white-backed duck is considered a close relative.

For now, I’d like to introduce you to a species that is found in both our South American and African aviaries. The white-faced whistling duck can be easily recognized from other waterfowl species thanks to their (surprise!) white face, black nape and distinctive whistle-like calls. Only the fulvous whistling-ducks’ distribution can compete with the white-faces’, whose range includes most of South America, Africa and Madagascar. They inhabit open wetlands – not forests or wooded areas – and prefer to perch on flat land surfaces instead of trees.

White-faced whistling-ducks have stable numbers in the wild. In fact, they often gather in huge flocks of thousands of birds on the S.A. llanos. During the rainy season, the white-face tend to make their nests in the long grasses and reeds in marshlands, though they will occasionally use tree hollows or low forks. Parents are very protective of their young, often feigning injury to lead potential predators away from their offspring.

All whistling-ducks are basically built the same with slender, almost upright bodies and long, lanky legs. Although some species do comfortably perch in trees (hence the name "tree-duck,") others rarely do. But all the species, however, are very vocal and do have distinctive, high-pitched "whistle-like" calls. These melodic vocalizations have endeared them to aviculturists, and all eight species have been bred in captive collections.

On your next visit to the Park, be sure to stop in either the South American or African aviary and take a few minutes to find these personable birds!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Babies are Hatching at the Park!

Spring has sprung, summer has begun and love is in the air at SHWP. Everywhere you look, pairs are nesting and babies are hatching. Here is a look at some of our most exciting hatches at the Park…

First and foremost, we are proud to announce the successful hatching of a lesser flamingo chick. This past winter, pairs were enclosed in the exhibit’s breeding area, a small building located in the back. This "love nest" has proven to be especially important for the successful breeding of lesser flamingos in captivity. The area was thoughtfully designed by our General Curator, Brad Hazelton, to encourage the pairs to nest.

In the wild, flamingos nest in HUGE colonies, sometimes with up to a million birds! So to simulate this huge number in captivity, the walls of the nesting area is lined with mirrors. The nest area itself is composed of a nice muddy area, which the birds work with their beaks and feet to form mud mounds on which they lay a single egg. Temperature, lighting, and humidity were carefully monitored and at the beginning of May, the animal care staff was rewarded for their efforts with the hatching of the Park’s first lesser flamingo chick.

It is very rare for birds to breed the first year in new captive surroundings, and it is a credit to the Sylvan Heights staff that this chick was produced. The chick and its parents are now on display in the main exhibit area and we hope you all get a chance to stop by and get a closer look!

Also, a pair of masked lapwings (Vanellus miles) in our Australia exhibit has successfully hatched 4 eggs. Found throughout northern, central, and eastern Australia, these birds may nest at any time of the year when the conditions are favorable. Both sexes work at building the nest, which is a simple scrape in the ground away from any vegetation. Egg incubation and chick-rearing duties are also shared by both parents. The precocial chicks are able to leave the nest and feed on their own within just a few hours of hatching. To get a look at these tiny and adorable chicks, visit our Australian exhibit, where they can be found wandering close to their parents. But they grow up fast, so don’t wait too long!

The park also has a number of nesting ducks, swans and geese. In particular, the park’s swans have been a big crowd-pleaser. Visitors have enjoyed watching the fuzzy little cygnets that have hatched from our pairs of black-necked swans, whooper swans and black swans. If you happen to see a pair on the water with babies, be sure to check the parent’s back as sometimes the cygnets get a bit sleepy and like to take a little ride!

Friday, May 22, 2009

No Crocodile Tears Here...

Let me introduce you to two new additions to the Park’s Education Program – American Alligators!

Okay, so they’re not waterfowl – nor even remotely avain in nature, but they are a great tool that our education staff can use to talk about the diversity of wetlands. Native to America, North Carolina is the northern most tip of their range. They are fantastic creatures who are located at the top of the food chain in wetland habitats.

Although they are not crocodiles, they are in the crocodilian family. Only two species of alligators exist in the world, the American alligator and the Chinese alligator, which is much smaller and very endangered. Other crocodilians include crocodiles, caimans, and gharials. However, they all share similar characteristics.

These predatory reptiles are cold-blooded, which means that they cannot control their body temperature the way mammals and birds do. Instead, they rely on their environment to warm or cool them. They are most active in the hot summer months, which isn’t saying a lot, because these cunning animals spend the majority of their time being very still. They use the ambush method to catch their prey, which requires very little movement and a good amount of patience on their part. Since they spend most of their time in the water hunting for food, their body is designed to help them camouflage in their environment. All of the senses that they need to catch a good meal, are located on top of their head – sight, hearing, and smell. This way they can submerge the rest of their body beneath the water keeping it hidden from their alert prey. When a bird or mammal gets close enough…SURPRISE! The alligator quickly snaps it up into its wide mouth and gobbles it down whole. If the prey happens to be too large to swallow, the alligator is equipped with about 80 teeth and incredible jaw strength to tear it into bite-sized pieces.

They also eat a lot of fish and turtles, so to aid them in their underwater dining, crocodilians have three eyelids – one on the bottom and one on top (like us,) but they also have a third one underneath these and it is clear. Called a nictitating membrane, this third eyelid is clear and allows the alligator to see underwater while protecting its eye from debris and such.

While a mother alligator is one of the fiercest animals on the planet, she is also one of the most gentle. Before laying her clutch of 30 to 50 eggs, the female carefully makes a nest of soil and rotting vegetation. Heat from the decomposing matter incubates the eggs for 60 to 70 days and the sex ratio depends on the temperature inside the nest. Eggs incubated at higher temperatures will turn into male alligators, while cooler temps produce females.
The mother will guard their nest until the babies begin to hatch. When she hears her babies making "chucking" sounds and digging their way to the surface, she will help dig up the eggs. If any are having trouble hatching, the female will carefully take the egg into her mouth and carefully break open the egg without harming the baby inside. Once the babies have hatched, she will take them into her mouth or onto her back and carry them down to the water. Many hatchlings will stay with their mother for up to a year for protection from larger predators.

To learn more about these fantastic creatures, call the Park and register for any of our summer camps, education or family programs to meet our scaly friends….

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Business After-Hours at Sylvan Heights

On Thursday, April 30th 2009, almost 200 people attended a Business After-Hours Event for local businesses, their employees and families. Hosted by Halifax Electric, guests visited the park between 5:30 and 7:00 pm, and enjoyed an evening of dining and giveaways, while exploring the Park. Guests also enjoyed a "sneak peek" of the progress being made in our Phase II expansion project area. For some, it was their first chance to enjoy all that the park has to offer. Dinner was provided by Mike Butts’ Famous Roast Beef, and it was excellent! Thank you, Mike!

Coming up on Saturday, May 30th, Sylvan Heights will be having its annual "Duckling Day" event from 10 am to 2pm. Members who have joined at the Aviculturist and higher levels are invited to our members-only brunch and behind-the-scenes tour. Start the day off with a delicious meal in our Golden Leaf room and then enjoy a special tour of the Park’s Breeding Center that is not open to the public. You’ll get an up-close look at some adorable ducklings, goslings, cygnets and more in our very busy nursery area. Learn about the endangered species being worked with at the Park and see how the breeding areas are set up. This special treat is our way of saying "thank you" for all of your support. We hope to see you all there!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Education Program

Please help a child enjoy nature and learn about conservation at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park.

Sylvan Heights educators are passionate about giving children hands-on, outdoor experiences that will open their eyes to the beauty and wonder of nature. But in these tough economic times our public schools and youth organizations need a hand to make educational outings and adventure-learning possible for more children.

We offer two ways for you to make a real difference in a child’s life and in the future of conservation:

1. Sponsor the group of your choice. Your $500 sponsorship will provide program and materials, Park admission and transportation for up to 35 kids and their teachers or chaperones. When you sponsor a group, we’ll send them a letter informing them of the opportunity you provided. We’ll also send you an update describing the group’s visit and the difference your generosity made for the children.

2. Make a donation of any amount for supplies and materials. We need everything from arts and crafts supplies to wheelchairs for special needs students.

Your donation, along with donations from others, will help fill these needs.To help with a tax deductible donation in support of Sylvan Heights education programs, please call us at 252-826-3186.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Projects

We’ve been very busy completing projects and starting new ones within the Waterfowl Park. Please plan a trip to the park to see what we're working on.

We added a new exhibit that houses Stella’s Lories, Rainbow Lories, Red-crested Wood Partridges and Sun Conures. The construction of the flamingo shelter was also completed and considerable progress has been made on the final touches to the Avian Winter Quarters.

Currently, we’re working on three new exhibits – two for swans and one for cranes. Construction on these enclosures will be ongoing for some time but, when completed, they will allow us to exhibit every species of swan, as well as an additional, spectacular species of crane.

We look forward to seeing you out at the Park soon and appreciate your comments about the progress that we are making on the grounds.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Animal Adoption Packages Now Available

Do you love animals? Do you want one of your own, but just don’t have time to put in all the work that goes into actually feeding and cleaning up after it? Then Sylvan Heights has the perfect solution for you!

Animal adoption baskets are now available in the gift shop. For $25.00, you can currently "adopt" either a swan or flamingo. Each package comes with an official adoption certificate, fact sheet on that species, a 4" x 6" photo, and a plush swan or flamingo. The actual birds themselves stay exactly where they are in the park, so you don’t have to shop for food or lift a finger (or rake or hose!) to clean up after them. Proceeds from animal adoptions go towards their feeding and care, so you can feel the satisfaction of helping to make their lives better through your generous purchase.

These baskets make wonderful birthday and anniversary gifts, and are a super way to help support the care of these animals in the park. Each adoption is good for one year. Adoption packages for other species may be made available later in the year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eurasian Eagle-Owls Hatch!

We have recently welcomed some new additions here at the park. This past February, we were ecstatic to discover FOUR(!) fertile eggs beneath our pair of Eurasian eagle-owls on exhibit. All four chicks successfully hatched in late March. Sylvan Heights staff members are hand-rearing three of the chicks, one of which will become part of the educational presentations that we offer both on and off-site. The owl chicks are being hand-fed several times per day and we carefully monitor the growth of each chick. The parent owls are rearing the fourth chick in their nest on park grounds.

With a wingspan of 4 to 5 feet and weighing up to 9 pounds, Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo) are the largest owl species in the world. They are rumored to have killed prey as large as foxes and young roe deer. Though they mainly feed on mammals, they will also consume other birds such as capercaillie and other birds of prey.

A species of horned-owl, eagle-owls are easily recognizable by the tufts of feathers on either side of the head, as well as their size and large orange eyes. As with all owls, their large eyes are an adaptation to their nocturnal habits and allows them to see better during their night time hunts.

Their native range spans the entire Eurasian continent, from Spain and Portugal to Russia and China. Although widespread, Eurasian eagle-owls are considered rare or threatened in many parts of Europe.

In the wild, they prefer to nest on cliff ledges, cave entrances, or rocky outcroppings. At the park, you will find the pair’s nest box located at the back of their enclosure and high off the ground. The three-week-old chick has been spotted by several visitors to the park, so next time you visit, be sure to check out their exhibit which is located next to flamingos.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is it a Goose....or a Duck?

The African pygmy-goose is arguably the most beautiful waterfowl on the planet. Contrary to its name, the pygmy-goose is actually a duck, though it is named for its goose-like bill. Both males and females have rust-colored bodies with rich green wing feathers. However, male African pygmy-geese, like the one featured in our blog header, have a clearly defined head pattern with shades of green on the cap and neck, a stark white face that emphasizes their black eyes, and a bright yellow bill. Females, on the other hand, have a more "dirty" face, the white being darker with smudges of dark feathers and a bill that is a more muted yellow and black.

Considered the smallest of Africa’s waterfowl, these birds are rarely seen on land. Their short legs are better suited for swimming, though they can often be found perched on logs or branches, and frequently roost in trees. African pygmy-geese (Nettapus auritus) inhabit lakes and lagoons heavy with vegetation such as water lilies and other submerged aquatic plants on which they feed. They use their tapered bills for stripping the seeds and clipping the leaves, flowers and buds of water lilies and other aquatic plants.

Despite their size, pygmy-geese are incredibly strong and agile fliers, easily taking flight directly from the water’s surface. Their high-pitched whistles are distinct yet delicate, and are often uttered while flying.

They nest in tree hollows (sometimes as high as 60 feet!) and on your next visit to Sylvan Heights, you can see palm logs with hollows that have been placed around the African Aviary to encourage these birds to breed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Calling All Photographers!

Are you a nature photographer looking for some great subjects?

Sylvan Heights is pleased to offer a new membership package just for photographers. When you buy a Photographer’s Membership, you’ll receive free admission to Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park for one year, as well as free admission to the North Carolina Zoo, all three NC Aquariums and the WNC Nature Center. In addition, you’ll receive a subscription to our newsletter, View from the Heights, and get a 10% discount in the Sylvan Heights Gift Shop.

All these great benefits are available with any Individual Membership, but what makes our Photographer’s Membership so special, is that members can call in advance and make arrangements to visit the park an hour before it opens to the public and/or stay an hour after park closing! This special benefit provides photographers like you with quiet, quality photography time uninterrupted by park visitors! And you can also take advantage of great morning and evening lighting in which to capture your subjects.

(And it’s also the perfect opportunity to take some great pictures that you can enter in this year’s photography contest here at the park. Keep this site bookmarked for upcoming information about the park’s contest.)

Another bonus is that your Photography Membership can be upgraded to include a guest or family, so your spouse and children can come enjoy the park as well.

For more information, please contact our membership department here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ground Breaking

This past Friday at 1 pm, we broke ground for the second phase of development here at the park. This exciting new phase will include the first public, wheelchair-accessible tree house in the state of North Carolina. The tree house is part of a five-acre expansion and wetland restoration project that will allow our visitors to experience first-hand the sights and sounds of a forested wetland habitat and its wildlife. Park board members and visitors trekked a short distance to the site of our future tree house to listen to our park’s Executive Director, Mike Lubbock, and other dignitaries, including Scotland Neck Mayor James Mills and Halifax Department of Tourism Executive Director Lori Medlin who described some of the unique features of Phase Two and thanked everyone for supporting Sylvan Heights.

We must express our sincere appreciation to The N.C. Departments of Justice, The Rural Center, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, The Cannon Foundation and The Conservation Fund for contributing more than $320,000 to support our expansion and wetland education programs. The park's expansion would not be possible without your generosity.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. To learn more about how you can sponsor one of the areas in our next phase of development, please contact Sylvan Heights at (252) 826-3186. Construction has already begun, so visitors will see a lot of activity and progress being made over the next few months. A grand opening is scheduled for this summer and we hope you will all join us for it.

Posted by: Monica Hazelton

Monday, March 2, 2009

Are You Flamingo Savvy?

One of Sylvan Height’s most popular attractions is the Flamingo Exhibit. Located in the center of the park, our flock is a mix of lesser and Chilean flamingos. Visitors can enter the exhibit to view these colorful birds from a viewing deck located on the edge of the flamingo’s pool.

To celebrate the popularity of these birds, we’re excited to bring you the first installment of our "Think Pink" series, which will bring to you interesting information about flamingos once a month. We’ll try to cover a little bit of everything, from their biology to their history in captivity. And we’ll also include facts about the flamingo flock here at Sylvan Heights. So if you’re an avid flamingo afficionado, or your children have a research project that they need help with, or you're simply a fan of anything related to Sylvan Heights, hopefully you’ll find some useful information here.

How many flamingos are there?
One of the most distinct birds in the world, flamingos are instantly recognizable. To most people, flamingos are those tall, pink birds with the long legs and neck. And that’s absolutely correct. But did you know that there are six different kinds of flamingos? In Europe and Africa, you can find the greater and the lesser flamingos. In the Americas, there are the Caribbean flamingo, the Chilean flamingo, the Andean flamingo, and the James’s flamingo. And believe it or not, they can all be distinguished from each other. There are small differences, such as the size of their bodies, shape of their beaks, and the color of their beaks, eyes, feathers or even legs!

Take a look at these pictures of both flamingo species at Sylvan Heights. You’ll see a lesser flamingo on the left and a Chilean on the right. Can you see the differences in eye, beak and feather color? What about the shape of the head? The Chilean’s is slightly longer, less compact. They also tend to be larger birds with longer legs that are more of a pale pink compared to the lesser’s dark pink ones.

Next time you visit the park, take a little trip down to the Flamingo Exhibit and see if you can pick out the Chilean from the lesser flamingos. Then come back here and leave us a comment letting us know how you did!
We'll post more information about flamingos in our Think Pink installment next month. Until then, we'll be bringing you updates about the park, including events, membership opportunities, animal adoption kits and, of course, introducing you to more of the beautiful animals living at Sylvan Heights.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome and Tundra Swan Project

Warmest welcome to all!

We're so happy to present to you the official blog of Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park. Located in Scotland Neck, NC, Sylvan Heights is the world’s largest waterfowl park and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Our main focus is providing our visitors a first-class experience in education, conservation and fun.

We plan to use this blog as a way to keep everyone informed about the spectacular birds at the park, like the Tundra swans we're blogging about today. We'll also let you know about any changes and additions to the park, including up-coming events, our education programs, and new exhibit openings.

Many of the visitors to the park really enjoy getting to see our Tundra swans up close. These beautiful birds are a true native of North America and breed on Alaska's North Slope. They then migrate east through Canada and the Carolinas. This unusual migration consists of traveling up to 8,000 miles round trip, and has been passed down from parent to offspring for countless generations. Tundra swans rely on tundra wetland habitat for breeding, wetland staging areas throughout their migration, and wintering grounds where parents and young can rest and feed.

The education department at Sylvan Heights is fortunate to be able to participate in the Tundra Swan Migration Research Program. It was developed by the Environmental Studies at Airlie, but Sylvan Heights educators contributed to the program by developing its educational component, which introduces middle and high school students to the world of field biology and wildlife research.

The park's education staff, Dan Louk and Carla Taylor, show the students how to collect data which allows the students to follow the swans and the research being conducted, share field observations and openly communicate with other participating schools across the continent. Students learn to use scientific equipment, conduct interviews, collect and analyze data and write a final research report. Local groups such as schools, scouts, college classes may sign up for this program and Sylvan Heights educators then schedule sessions and a trip to try to locate the collared swans.

If you're in the local area, and this sounds like a project you’d like your child or student to participate in, send an e-mail message to, and we’ll forward your e-mail to our education department for more details. To learn more about this fantastic research program, click here to visit the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education's project description page, or visit to see the map displaying each collared swan’s current location!

If you'd like to see the Tundra swans here at the park, you can find them in the North American Aviary. If you’ve never been to the park, here’s what you can expect: the park is home to over 1,000 birds, including many rare and endangered species. You can enjoy close-up encounters with many of these birds in our large walk-through aviaries, each of which represents species from six continents. Gardens and shaded picnic areas are located throughout the park, and your children will love our playground area. Many exciting new exhibit openings are in the works for this spring and summer, so check back with this blog often for more information.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl blog! In our sidebar, you’ll find a way to subscribe to our blog, which will deliver new postings directly to your email. Or you can bookmark our page for easy retrieval. We also want to hear from you. Feel free to click the comment button to let us know what you think. We're planning to post a new blog entry about every week, so stay tuned for our next post, which will feature one of the most recognizable birds in the world--the flamingo.