Lady Scot works for ‘fowl’ cause

Sylvan Heights Bird Park Operations Manager Ali Lubbock interacts with two of the park's Victoria Crown Pigeons.

 

Ali Lubbock, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, nearly 60 years ago, considers Scotland Neck home.

“I always say I’m the last Scottish settler of Scotland Neck,” said Ali, operations manager for the Sylvan Heights Bird Park. “There are no more Scots.”

Ali, who helped co-found the park with her husband Mike, said Scotland Neck wasn’t part of the original plan for the park. In fact, a park wasn’t part of the original plan either.

Ali and Mike met in England while both were working for the British Wildfowl Trust. Ali had grown up a bird watcher and had lived all over the world due to her father’s work with British Intelligence. Mike was director of aviculture for the trust, and a shared love for birds led to a love of each other that continues to this day.

That love of birds and each other led the couple to leave the trust in 1982, shortly after Mike nearly lost his life on an expedition for the trust to an island off the coast of Chile.

“We actually lost him for two weeks,” Ali said. “This was before cell phones and the communication we have now. He managed to get off the island, and we got him back, and he said, ‘I’m not going to do this for other people anymore.’ “

The pair took their young son Brent and moved to Alabama to begin their waterfowl breeding program, designed to supply birds to zoos and facilities throughout the United States. However, the prevalence of snakes, particularly water moccasins, necessitated relocation. In 1984, the Lubbocks moved their waterfowl breeding operation to Sylva, located in the mountains in the western part of North Carolina.

However, when their benefactor died, it became necessary to move again, and in 1984 the breeding center moved to Scotland Neck, where it remains today.

“We had over 2,000 birds and more than seven miles of fence,” Ali said. “It took 18 months to move everything here from the mountains.”

Still, the operation remained low-profile, with no plans to go public. Ali said funding from the national zoo and other organizations helped keep the facility going, but it became apparent, she said, a public arm would be necessary.

“Through the Zoo Society, we bought 18 acres of land,” Ali said. “My husband described what we needed, and we built the park.”

The park now houses more than 4,000 birds and serves as the educational arm of the breeding operation, displaying birds from all over the world, including American birds, South American birds and Australian fowl. More than 100,000 people have visited the park since it opened five years ago, and they have come from all over the world.

That international aspect of the park’s attraction is important to the economic success of Scotland Neck and Halifax County, said Halifax County Convention and Visitors Bureau President/CEO Lori Medlin.

“They have brought a national and international focus to our area,” Medlin said. “They have been featured in world-renowned publications for their conservation and preservation efforts for several species of waterfowl, and they are a tremendous marketing partner for us.”

Ali sits on the board of directors for the bureau, as well, and said she’s seen the impact her park has made on the Scotland Neck community.

“When people come here, they want to eat something,” Ali said. “We don’t have a restaurant on site, so they go into town to eat. I think it would be a bit of a nightmare running a restaurant here. I have a hard enough time getting the hang of a gift shop.”

While having a park might not have been part of the plan, Ali said the extra work has been worth it, and she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“We went out of our way before to not let people know where we were, but the pleasure of seeing people go, ‘Oh wow!’ when they come here has made it all worth it,” she said. “People have no idea what they are coming to. It’s been rather fun sharing this place. I didn’t think I would like it, but I do.”

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