North Carolina birds take flight

by | Jan 31, 2013

12 white-faced whistling ducks and 12 Bahama pintails recently made the move from Halifax County to the Caribbean. (photos from

Twenty-four birds recently made a journey from northeastern North Carolina to Trinidad, a small Caribbean island off the coast of South America. However, the trip wasn’t a typical migratory winter vacation. Sylvan Heights Bird Park sent 12 white-faced whistling ducks and 12 Bahama pintails to Trinidad, where the breeds are near extinction. The ducks will be used in a breeding program at the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust in South Trinidad and their offspring will eventually be released into wetlands on the Caribbean island.

Getting 24 ducks from the sanctuary in Halifax County to the southern Caribbean isn’t as easy as booking a flight and sending them on their way. It was a labor of love, the work of several years and the cooperation of state, federal and international agencies. According to Dr. Sarah Mason, who oversees poultry programs in the department’s Veterinary Division, Trinidad’s testing requirements created a time crunch that required all levels to work together for a successful flight and transfer. Once flight plans were finalized, it took a well-synchronized plan to get the job done. An NCDA&CS poultry inspector had to be on-site at a specific time to draw blood samples. He then drove them to the NCDA&CS Rollins laboratory in Raleigh for sample preparation. The lab then overnighted the samples to USDA’s National Veterinary Service  Laboratory for the five-day test.  USDA completed the testing and were able to get the test results back to the bird park within the time frame outlined by the receiving country. All conditions had to be perfect in order to get the birds in the air to Trinidad, and all groups worked together to make it happen.

Sylvan Heights Bird Park has the largest collection of waterfowl in the world and is the largest bird park in North America. Its exhibits offer visitors views of some of the world’s most endangered waterfowl and other birds. They are internationally known for successfully breeding many endangered species where others fail. The Veterinary Division works closely with Sylvan Heights to ensure this sensitive collection of birds remains healthy.

As for the expatriate birds, they were recently released from quarantine and appear to be happy and healthy in their new environment. We wish them a long and prosperous life in their new country! Check out the video below to learn more about their journey.