Before the 1980s, bird exhibits in Tampa meant Busch Gardens. Period. In the '80s, the Lowry Park Zoo underwent a conversion from embarrassment to showplace. And in 1995, the Florida Aquarium opened to great fanfare.
The evolution of Busch Gardens has taken it from a collection of birds that opened, free to visitors, in 1959, to an enormous and complex theme park, one of a series of attractions across the country managed by Busch Entertainment Corporation, and its bird exhibits are now details in an experience of sensory overload. Throughout this time, serious aviculture has been practiced on a major scale and continues to be. Amidst the terrifying rollercoasters, continuous shows, scheduled appearances by Jack Hanna, and a major series of mammals and reptiles, an important bird collection (of nearly 170 species and subspecies) continues to impress (though the brewery around which this all started closed several years ago).
The nucleus of the collection was a fantastic shipment of Australian parrots obtained by August Busch, Jr. just before Australia ended private importations. Busch Gardens was quickly recognized as one of the world's major psittacine collections, and its breeding record soon drew attention. The International Zoo Yearbook records 105 species and subspecies of parrots hatched over the period from 1959 through 1994. The only U.S. collection to exceed this was the San Diego Zoo, which hatched 125 taxa during the same time. The next best records for U.S. collections open to the public were Los Angeles with 38 taxa hatched, and San Antonio with 31 (Lindholm, 1999).
What is truly astounding about Busch Garden's breeding records is the enormous number of individuals produced. Among psittacines fully reared from 1963 through 1994 were 564 Sun Conures, 374 Blueand-Gold Macaws, 348 Jendaya Conures, 173 Scarlet Macaws, 153 Golden or Queen of Bavaria Conures, 135 Goldencapped Conures (Aratinga au ricapi lla), 107 Swainson's Lorikeets, 95 Hahn's Macaws, 87 Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, 83 Senegal Parrots, 82 Chestnut-fronted Macaws, 79 Forsten's Lorikeets, 76 Mainland Moustached Parakeets, 57 Edward's Lorikeets, 40 Mitred Conures, 40 Orange-winged Amazons, 39 Illiger's Macaws, 37 Green-winged Macaws, 32 Blue-fronted Amazons, 23 Mo!uccan Cockatoos, 22 Green-thighed Caiques, and 14 Rueppel's Parrots (Lindholm, 1999).
Mike Wells, Curator of Birds, told me this amazing production was motivated in part to saturate private aviculture with captive-bred birds, thus reducing demand for imported ones. Many of these birds were acquired expressly as breeders by aviculturists. Following passage of the 1992 Wild Bird Conservation Act, which ended commercial importation of wild-caught psittacines in 1993, the volume of parrot propagation at Busch Gardens has been greatly reduced, and most off-exhibit breeding facilities have been closed. However, significant parrot breeding continues: For instance, in the six months preceding 28 April, 2002, ISIS indicates nine Queen of Bavaria Conures hatched at Tampa, and 31 were in the colJection on that date.
Originally the enormous parrot collection was displayed in a plethora of smallish cages scattered around the area now know as the Bird Gardens. Most of these have long since been taken clown. There are still more than 50 species of psittacines at Busch Gardens. In the cages that remain, one might find Jendaya Conures, Derbyan Parakeets, Orange-winged Amazons, and, of course, Queen of Bavaria Conures. An especially large series of cages, designated "Parrots of the Pacific," has been replaced by "Lory Landing," where guests feed a nicely diverse collection of lories and lorikeets sharing an unusually large aviary with such birds as Golden crested Mynahs, Violet Plantaineaters, and Red-wattled Lapwings. Associated with this exhibit are roomy aviaries for such birds as Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Thick-billed Parrots, and Hyacinth and Military Macaws.
Elsewhere is a recently opened walk-through aviary for softbills and aquatics, including Purple-crested Touracos, Purple-headed Glossy Starlings, American....
Lindholm, J.H. ( 1999) An historical review of parrots bred in zoo in the U.S.A. Avicultural Magazine 105: 145-184.
Salisbury, C.L. (1991) Breeding the chestnut-capped ground thrush at the Lowry Park Zoological Garden (Zoothera interpres). A.F.A. Watchbird 18 (No. 1):7-9
Snow, P. ( 1992) Eel Bish - Premier aviculturist retires from Busch Gardens. A.F.A. vcatchbtrd 19 (No.3):22.