The Crafty Birds at Iguazu Falls
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. Iguazu Falls ranks pretty highly on most everyone’s bucket list of natural wonders to behold. In fact, it currently sits at number 2 on the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of South America, trumped only by the colossal Amazon rainforest itself. There is no belittling the jaw-dropping awe that this mighty cascade of water inspires. It perfectly exemplifies mirabile visu, marvelous to see. There is something soothing about water succumbing to gravity. It’s comforting in its predictability, even as it surges forth at a pace that could sweep away an entire town in seconds. Animals on the other hand, are far less predictable, a fact which lends a certain dynamism to their charm. (If you’ve ever been atop a horse that spooks at the sight of, say, a leaf rustling in the breeze, you’ve been privy to the shifty and at times maddening nature of the animal world. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “Horses: dangerous on both ends, crafty in the middle.”) While natural wonders like Iguazu falls may inspire wonder, animals have the power to elicit something altogether more childlike, more playful, more delightful. That something is a mix of rapture and curiosity.
The falls amused me for a spell, but I soon grew tired of them. Where was the story? The drama? I left feeling somehow dissatisfied with the spectacle, a feeling which persisted until we found ourselves immersed in a world of brightly feathered characters. At Parque das Aves, located on the Brazilian side of the falls, visitors rub elbows (pinions?) with a number of exotic fowl from around the world. Some are enclosed in large aviaries, like the various breeds of gregarious parrots, but many more roam the grounds in relative freedom, mingling with humans as the mood strikes them. Naturally this offers terrific insight into the habits and personalities of different bird species. Here I learned that toucans are especially curious and playful, eager to prod you with their Cyrano-esque beaks, while hummingbirds are totally oblivious to humans unless one happens to be standing between them and a juicy flower, in which case they have no problem piercing through an earlobe in their desperate trajectory towards nectar.
When not actively engaging with the birds, visitors are encouraged to look on from a distance as the animals go about their daily routine. Some scenes play out as if in some anthropomorphic Animal Planet dramatization. One show might be entitled “Peacock vs. Flamingo: a showdown of the flamboyant.” Here we find a gaggle of flamingos standing around on one foot or the other. Their lazy afternoon is interrupted when a peacock struts onto the scene, tail feathers fanned haughtily. His mere presence sends the flamingos into a yellow-bellied panic of squawking and wing-flogging. The peacock swaggers off the set triumphantly, his inflated ego further buoyed by his success. The episode ends with tally of the day’s score: Peacock 1, Flamingos 0.
In addition to learning about the flamingo anatomy (beak like a strainer, spine like a coward’s) I also gained insight into their mating habits. Apparently flamingos are reluctant to breed if they feel their flock is too sparse. Since most zoos lack the infrastructure to accommodate huge gaggles of these gangling birds, tricks have been devised to coax them into mating. At the Parque das Aves, a series of angled mirrors have been strategically positioned to cast enough flamingo reflections to get them in the mood. I wonder if the park managers consulted the designers of that mad hotel in Berlin about the liberating powers of mirrors in the bedroom...
Parque das Aves is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. The entrance fee is $17 USD per person, which is by no means cheap but is completely worth it for the remarkable opportunity of interacting with such a high concentration of exotic birds. Don’t miss the gift shop at the end of the tour, where you can pick up classy head gear like this little number:
If Daniel Boone had been a Brazilian, he would have totally rocked this coati-skin cap instead of his signature coonskin.