For the Birds Radio Program: Birds of Walt Disney World

Original Air Date: Jan. 30, 2003

Laura found an interesting blend of Florida’s native birds and exotic species at Disney World.

Duration: 3′26″


Last week Russ and I brought our son Joey down to Florida, where he is starting an internship at Walt Disney World. The day before he started work, we went to Disney World together as a family. There are many things about the Disney corporation that drive me crazy. Their theme park and all the developments that sprang up around it so overload the Orlando area sewage treatment system that the nitrogenous wastes work their way down to the Everglades, where they fertilize nutrient-demanding introduced cattails which choke out native sawgrass and the wildlife that depends on it. And Disney World abounds in fake plants and animals that are bigger and more dramatic than reality—teaching children at an early age that the real natural world isn’t exciting enough.

But since I was a little girl, I’ve loved a lot of Disney cartoons, and hey—we were going to Disney World. Some people like it for the rides, but me, I go there to look at birds. We happened to arrive during a record-breaking cold snap, and during the off-season, so there wasn’t much human activity there. That meant lines were short, but even so, optimistic Turkey Vultures floated above us in the blue skies. A huge flock of robins pigged out in some fruit trees right in the midst of a center of human activity, and for any northerner who happened to be missing the Ring-billed Gulls of summer, there were plenty flying above the Pirates of the Caribbean and other water attractions. I got a great photo of one gull with brilliant blue sky and the Epcot Center filling the background. Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers flitted about all over the place.

There were several herons and Pied-billed Grebes in ponds here and there, along with the captive spoonbills, Scarlet Ibises, and other beautiful but non-native species in Disney enclosures. Somehow it seems ironic that Disney works so hard to bring birds from other places into its captive pens when could have tried to maintain habitat for the gorgeous native Florida birds that actually belong there, like the endangered Florida Scrub-Jays that have completely retreated from there. It’s not as if Disney has a great track-record for caring for captives, either—the last Dusky Seaside Sparrows on the planet were killed in Disney Discovery Island cages during a storm in 1987.

The coolest thing that happened while we were at Disney was finding a living statue—a person in a perfect ancient Greek statue costume, who posed with my binoculars, looking up into the sky. Normal people come to Disney with cameras. But seeing the many birds that are struggling to adapt to the crowded, unnatural conditions, I was sure glad I’d brought my binoculars.