My Visit to Emerald Forest

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Pictured: Channel bill toucans

I'd been working out dates to come out and visit Emerald Forest for months and was so nervous something would happen to make it fall through. I was communicating back and forth with Jerry about the visit as well as my constant toucan-impulse questions that arise for sure reason of living with a toucan.  My main reasons for wanting to go out to Emerald Forest were:
  1. To see Meaka, a Swainson toucan previously named Skittles sold to us years and years ago that we sold to EF for their breeding program (unfortunately the large toucans haven't been breeding in captivity for about 2 years... they are very hard to breed in captivity)
  2. To see Crash, our military macaw, whom we donated to EF knowing he'd be provided a good home to someone who knew how to properly care for him (he's not being used for breeding but does live with the other macaws in his own aviary there)
  3. Who doesn't want to see more toucans and aracaris?!
  4. To pick Jerry's brain on toucans, whose better brain to have the opportunity to pick when it comes to ultimate knowledge on toucans!

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Silver cheek hornbill aviary

I saw much much more than I ever expected.  As we drove up the properly to EF, peacocks lined the drive flying and running. They were magnificent and it reminded me of David Copperfield's island with his one male peacock that used to lay on the drive to the house he'd stay out on, on the island of Musha Cay.   As we drove further up the drive we waited by Jerry's house on the properly and heard a knock... knock... knock...   We looked around, puzzled. Knock... knock...  

Photo by Dave Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Shown: Green Aracari

My parents were there with Dave and I and we were all looking around in every direction. Was it the peacock on the roof? Knock... knock... knock...   It was a bare eyed cockatoo inside Jerry's house, free flighted and knocking on the window at us. We all started laughing and waving. Then Jerry pulled up and we all introduced ourselves. "Let's start with the nursery!" he said. I hadn't even though of EF having its own nursery though now it made sense. We walked into the building that was the nursery and saw all the new baby birds among one free flighted keel-billed toucan who was out and doing what he/she wanted. All the birds were stunning and we learned all about the babies from Jerry.  

Photo by Dave Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch 

Next, he took us to the aviaries all along the zillion-acre property (or so it felt!) with toucans on one side of the ranch and the macaws and parrots on the other. The aviaries were my favorite to see and the perfect use of space around the ranch. In California there's rolling hillsides and Jerry had used his space perfectly. We had a pond in the front, and a stream that ran through the ranch with various self-made gardens of fresh foods and his employees living on site so someone was always around for the animals' needs. We saw 2 of the 3 wells on the property with fresh water and and sprinkler system, and misting system for all the aviaries for the warmer days.  

Photo by Dave Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Shown: Military macaw "Crash" 

We walked through the aracari aviaries, the macaws, the cockatoos... all the flight aviaries with branches taken from the ranch and empty boxes and home made enrichment opportunities given to the birds to use to play with. I couldn't imagine buying regular parrot toys for all the birds (the expense alone!) but seeing them make use of what they used on a daily basis anyway was great. A cardboard box goes a long way for a macaw! They love anything they can destroy.   We walked past some military macaws together and thought maybe one was Crash... but we had a hard time seeing because of the over-growth of trees and plants which provided many of the enclosures with a natural source of shade and play.  

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Shown: Military macaw "Crash" 

We kept going until we came across some more macaws.  "Actually I think the guy you sent me is that one there," said Jerry pointing to a military macaw next to a couple of red macaws.  Dave and I ran up the path and both said, "Crash?" and down came the military macaw right to us and began mimicking us. We saw his one missing toe and knew it was him. He blushed so red and got very excited to see us. The only thing was, when we walked away... he didn't scream. Dave and I looked at one another and laughed, both realizing at the same time he wasn't upset we were walking away without him. It made us both happy to know he's happy. He's at a place he can just be a bird - which is exactly what he needed. He loves to socialize from a distance with the others around him, yet have his space, and he needs to be outdoors with enrichment opportunities. We didn't know of a single person-home that could provide what he needed for him, and understand him the way he needed to be understood, but EF is able. 

Photo by Dave Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Shown: Peacocks 

As we continued on our tour we went through the toucan aviaries... they were HUGE!! I mean, I thought the others were big, but these were 2-3 of those put together and the toucans flew loops inside of them.  I have to say after the tour I felt like my 6-foot diameter aviaries were NOTHING! And it all inspired me to want to build my own GIANT aviaries for my birds on my own land in the future. Obviously I still love what I've got, and it's the best I can provide for what space I have in my Florida backyard. But my next ones on my own land will be self-build and huge like the ones I saw at EF. They've inspired me to do better by my birds in the future.  

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Shown: Keel billed toucan 

Seeing the large toucans was fantastic and Meaka was there looking beautiful as ever, paired up with a mate. Hopefully she will help keep the population alive in captivity in the years to come, in the meantime it's heartwarming to see her enjoying life.   Lastly, on our way out Jerry showed us the building that was his hospital. Again, something I didn't think of or expect and I was so impressed. In the room before the hospital was a storage room for pellets and other foods for the birds in weeks to come.  

Photo by Dave Location: Emerald Forest Bird Ranch Aracari aviary 

There's always something to learn from seeing how someone else does it.   Thanks again, Jerry, for a wonderful experience and offering a wonderful place for birds to be birds, including ours; Meaka and Crash.  To plan your visit, visit Emerald Forest Birds and book your tour for $35/person.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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