Photos and story by Collin Hall
The announcement that the “World of Birds” would close hit me like an albatross. I squinted my eyes toward my cell phone as the press release hit my inbox. No! Not the bird exhibit! I shouted it loud in the back of the Mazda 2, and the mood of the whole car sunk low into the pavement.
The World of Birds was the closest you could get to any of the animals at the Zoo. The large indoor aviary, at its peak, housed dozens of colorful bird species that would squawk, soar, and stomp around the large artificial rainforest painstakingly designed to meet their needs. This was their world, always a treat to step into.
The exhibit opened the year I was born, and in my hubris, I thought it would be here forever. But on a sopping wet April 30, I paid a final sorrowful, joyful visit to one of the Cape May County Zoo’s best exhibits.
It was wilder than the Zoo’s other attractions. Yeah, there are alligators in The Reptile and Amphibian House, but they stare blankly at you in an air-conditioned room through a thick pane of glass.
The World of Birds was a free-standing building in the middle of the Zoo’s grounds – I always felt the building, which housed a walkway through a rainforest teeming with weird and wonderful birds, punched above its pay grade. We’re a free Zoo in a small, relatively rural county, and a bird exhibit that functions as a contained ecosystem strikes me as an impressive feat of both maintenance and engineering. The only comparable exhibits I can think of exist at the Smithsonian Zoo and the San Diego Zoo.
The first impression after walking through three (!) double doors into the aviary was always a gut-wrenching shriek from a flamingo or the enlightened coo of a Nicobar pigeon. I’ve visited the World of Birds with folks who immediately complain about both the humidity and the smell.
Hey man, that’s half the fun!
The impressive things about the World of Birds were obvious. Dozens of bird species roamed freely, mated, danced, squawked, and pranced similar to how they do in the wild. As a good ol’ Jersey boy, there aren’t many opportunities to get close to these otherwise shy creatures.
But the downsides – laid out plainly in a press release from the Zoo – only struck me when I processed the closure and looked a bit closer during my next visit. The Zoo claims that the exhibit was among the least visited in the whole park. That tracks. I loved to come to the World of Birds to relax with the sights, sounds, and smells of God’s weirdest creatures. But in hindsight, it isn’t a good thing that I was able to hang out there for upwards of 30 minutes without seeing a soul travel through.
The rain poured as Emily, Alec and I entered the World of Birds for the final time. We looked for the signs of wear that the press release warned of, and for the first time, I imagined cleaning up the poop that flows freely here. I am loathe to imagine the complexity of keeping this place up to the high standards demanded by the Zoo’s two accrediting bodies.
So, after 45 minutes or so, we left the World of Birds for the last time. On a proud, hot summer day last year, I told my friends that “I’m glad the World of Birds will always be here, so close to where we live.”
But time comes for us all. I am thankful for the aviary’s 24 years of service.