Photo Essay

Zoo Miami: Major Hangout For Birds Of Asia!

Azure Winged Magpie

There's an old adage: "If you can't fish cut bait."

Not that this photo essay is about fishing, but equal logic applies too as in: If you can't afford to visit exotic places around the world, then look for exotic places right at home or near to where you live.

As a Fine Art Photographer, I've always been fascinated with birds in general but, within the last decade or so, with 'out-of-the-ordinary' birds of the kind you would not typically stumble across anywhere in North primary base. Of course it would be quite nice to fly off to a few far-flung places to find exotic avian life to photograph, but some of us have very shallow pockets. Or maybe the timing or circumstances always find us saying something like: "Oh Well, maybe next year."

What started me onto this frenzy for wanting to photograph exotic looking birds happened when I was visiting the San Diego Zoo in California many years ago. At the aviary there, I saw what was certainly the most astonishing looking bird imaginable. I'll never forget, but it was a Bird of Paradise and like no other bird I had ever seen before. It was so beautiful. So uniquely different.

The plumage on this species (a native of New Guinea) was as if it was painted on by some whacked out psychedelic artist from the 'counterculture art movement' of the 1960's. The colors on that bird were so varied and contrasty. For a minute there, I thought I was looking at some freak of nature, but as I got more involved in my exotic bird documentary over the years, it became evident that some of the most beautiful birds you'll ever want to see is found outside of North America in such locations around the world as Southeast Asia, as an example.

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. The American Blue Jay, as arresting and as vibrant a bird as it is, or the Northern Cardinal with its conspicuous red feathers, are two of the most stunning feathered finds throughout all of North America. But, when paired with the Asian Fairy Bluebird (tropical southern Asia from the Himalayan foothills, India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia) or the Baikal Teal (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan) you are really comparing apples and oranges here. In short, there is very little similarity if you're talking about raw natural beauty.

Unfortunately, trekking throughout Southeast Asia or throughout a similar environment looking for my exotic beauties (I soon figured out) was simply not going to happen for me any time soon. Again, if you can't get to these far away locations you have to do the next best thing if your passion for documenting the unusual was as soaring as mine.

Just before Hurricane Andrew bludgeoned parts of South Florida in late 1992, I visited Zoo Miami (then called the Metro Zoo). This would have been my second or third visit to the zoo. During this visit, three months before Andrew totally thrashed the Zoo's Aviary, I had no idea how much of a Zoo Geek I was about to become.

As I casually entered the opening to the Wings of Asia exhibit as the zoo's aviary is called, I was totally blown away at what I was about to experience that Saturday morning. I could not have believed my eyes. There were literally hundreds of birds (from southeast Asia) flying about and so incredibly acclimated to humans that it was so easy to photograph them. That day, I spent almost six hours photographing these feathered beauties. At the end of the day, I knew I had, at least, one hundred or so saleable images in my portfolio cache.

Since that discovery, I soon found out exactly where all the exotic locations were in my own backyard, namely zoos, aviaries, theme parks etc., where I could find and photograph these overseas gems existing right in South Florida.

I soon became something of a Zoo Geek and, to date, have visited more than one hundred zoos, aviaries or theme parks (where exotic birds are kept) around the country and in Canada. My biggest discovery, however, was at the Wings of Asia Aviary at Zoo Miami. When I last checked, there were at least 80 – 85 species of birds there from Southeast Asia numbering around 350 to 400 birds. Thus far, I've photographed and documented about 77 species and have taken more than 600 pictures of birds at this aviary alone.

Last month I got an email from a visitor to my website ( commenting on my assortment of exotic birds, in particular. "My, it must have cost you a fortune visiting so many countries around the world in order to capture such fine bird specimens" she said. I simply acknowledged her compliments and thanked her for commenting on my work. Little does she know, however, that the most cost to me is a mere annual zoo fee of $75 (for unlimited visits) and the occasional $5 or $8 for a lunch snack from time to time.

There is much to be said, however, about visiting exotic locations around the world if you happen to have deep pockets like a photog friend of mine who now lives in Queensland, Australia. He's very much a bird photographer such as I am and with a portfolio that would make National Geographic salivate from both sides of the mouth. He is your 'true adventurer.' He eats, sleep and live for the challenge of capturing exotic finds all around the world.

I guess the only difference between Frank and I is that it costs me so much less than what he dishes out annually in pursuit of the same objective. Am I excited about my zoo captures? You bet I am. If I had a chance to travel as extensively as Frank, would I? You bet your bird feathers I would.

In the meantime, however, I always call to mind a bit of philosophy my Dad passed on to me many years ago when he said: "Son, always remember that wind does not blow up the same dog's ass all the time." Then he would close by adding, "One day (soon I hope), wind will blow up your ass too."

Translation? If you can't find hay when you want it ... Make hay when you need it!

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—The JPG team

5 responses

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (7 Apr 2013):

    Congrats on being The Story of the Week!

  • Sarah Springer

    Sarah Springer (Deleted) gave props (10 Apr 2013):

    Wonderful avian portraits.....congrats and agree with the philosophy

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (11 Apr 2013):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (11 Apr 2013):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (12 Apr 2013):

    wonderful story and many congratulations of the story of the week 15... Vote!!!

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