Free Flying Adventure 

with Avian Behavior International

November 29, 2016


Last week we were invited out to Avian Behavior International in Valley Center, CA to experience their “Free Flying Adventure” with owner Hillary Hankey.  Valley Center is a beautiful rural community in San Diego County and although it feels like it’s worlds away from the hustle and bustle, it’s easily accessible. 

If you live in the San Diego area or are planning to visit and your family loves birds, I highly recommend this experience.  While you can view many varieties of birds at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, there is nothing quite like an experience that allows you to have an up close and personal encounter.

As we drove out to the aviary ranch, we passed under mature oaks down country roads and past countless farms.  I was reminded what I love so much about open quiet spaces out in the country.  The final trek was on a dirt road and then we arrived.  We were greeted by Hillary and our 90 minute adventure began. 

First we got to meet the many birds that call this ranch their home.   It is quite amazing to see so many different varieties of feathered friends.  The cockatoos, lorikeets, ravens, various owls, Harris hawks, and even the buzzards seemed to be interested in our visit.  But the East African Crowned Cranes and Southern Ground-hornbill (that goes by the name Kipling) stole the show.  We were delighted to see these beautiful African cranes with their colorful heads and silly dancing moves. 

Hillary took us into their enclosure and let us feed them.  They rewarded us with a dance that was more like a jump and a flap.  Kipling, the Southern Ground-hornbill, has a huge personality and curiosity for everything happening at the ranch.  We learned that Kipling spent the first part of his life in Hillary’s home and has a special place in her heart.  His enclosure is full of toddler toys to keep him occupied and we noticed the entire time we were at the ranch he kept an eye on what we were doing. 

Kipling, the Southern Ground-hornbill

We learned that the Southern Ground-hornbill , indigenous to South Africa, is on the endangered list.  Avian Behavior International is working to bring awareness to the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project.  Species preservation and breeding programs are making a difference for the survival of this intelligent bird.  Kipling is a great ambassador and meeting him was a highlight.

We explored the grounds and were even joined by three cute little baby goats that also live at the ranch.  These little guys wander around looking for nibbles and welcoming guests.  They are cute enough to cuddle, but too busy to stop for a hug. 

We also enjoyed seeing the donkeys.  Hillary told us that sometimes one of the goats will jump on the back of a donkey.

Then in was time for our flight adventure where we got to observe the beautiful macaws in a truly unique way.  The macaws were released from their enclosure and sent out to free-fly.  We followed along taking a short hike to meet up with them.  It was an amazing experience to watch these majestic creatures circle around in the skies above and come in to land.  We fed them almonds, allowed them to rest on our shoulders and arms, and learned even more about these beautiful birds.  Luca, Leo, Banjo, Felix, Indy and Balboa each seem to have a personality of their own and Hillary knows them quite well. 

Then it was time to return to where we started.  We made the short hike back while the macaws circled in the air and disappeared.   To be perfectly honest, I was nervous that some of the macaws might not make it back.  We waited near the enclosure and sure enough they had all arrived.  Two sat right on top of their enclosure, two waited on a nearby perch and we could see two overhead waiting on a power line.  One by one, they came in and returned safely to their home.  It was an amazing experience.

As we drove away, my 10 year old mentioned all the people we know who would love to experience something like this… his brother, his dad, and grandpa to just name a few.  I couldn’t agree more.  We will certainly find time to return.

A huge thank you to Hillary and Avian Behavior International for hosting us and sharing your passion with us!


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