Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Roanoke Rapids, NC

By Renee Elder on April 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm EST

Eastern North Carolina is known for its magnificent wildlife. Bobcats‚ red wolves‚ bald eagles and marsh rabbits are among the animals attracted by the coastal region’s abundant food and temperate climate.

Just as the Roanoke River Natural Wildlife Refuge helps nurture these native species‚ the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park & Eco-Center carries out an equally important mission: preserving endangered waterfowl from around the world.

“What Sylvan Heights is doing is making people aware of the species that are threatened‚” says Brent Lubbock‚ whose father‚ Mike‚ and mother‚ Ali‚ opened the avian breeding preserve in Scotland Neck in 1989.

Mike Lubbock was already a successful ornithologist in England when he moved to the United States in the 1980s with the goal of building his own collection of waterfowl.

Now well established as one of the world’s most successful private breeding programs‚ Sylvan Heights is open to the public. The 18-acre waterfowl park and eco-center adjacent to the avian breeding preserve gives visitors a chance to view many exotic birds and learn about their habitats and behavior.

“Most of the species are in enclosed aviaries that are set up to be continentally themed‚ so you not only get to see the waterfowl but also the plants and environmental settings from Africa‚ South American‚ North America and so on‚” Lubbock says.

The park was conceived as a way to help generate money for Sylvan Heights’ ongoing research and breeding programs‚ Lubbock says.

“But it’s a great educational opportunity‚ too‚” he adds. “It’s a local treasure.”

Visitors to the park get to see their colorful favorites‚ such as toucans‚ parrots and kookaburras‚ as well as rare‚ endangered species.

With more than 2‚500 birds representing 170 species‚ the breeding center often works with exotic and endangered birds such as the Madagascar teal‚ the African pygmy goose and Australia’s pink-eared duck.

Among the Sylvan Heights population are about 60 white-winged wood ducks. Native to Asia‚ the large but timid black-and-white bird is nicknamed the Spirit Duck because of its ghostly nighttime trumpeting. Once abundant in Thailand and Indonesia‚ this duck is now critically endangered‚ with fewer than 500 believed to exist. Thanks to the Lubbocks‚ those numbers are growing.

“Mike Lubbock has almost single handedly brought back species of waterfowl from the brink of extinction‚” says Russ Williams‚ executive director of the North Carolina Zoological Society. The society is a strong supporter of the Sylvan Heights breeding program and the park.

“The society’s main goal is to save a piece of the world for its wildlife‚ and Sylvan Heights supports the same conservation and education mission we do‚” Williams says. “It’s quite an international treasure.”

The center occasionally loans out birds to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro‚ N.C.‚ and other institutions to allow visitors to learn more about endangered waterfowl.

For more information about the park and the avian breeding program‚ visit the center’s Web site at

Also, check out more wildlife in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

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