(Photo above left) Left, Virginia Nisbet, right Beth Weaverling, Ventura County Aninal Services, use a bat net catching the eight cockatiels that were housed at the Steckel Park Aviary and moved to Camarillo. (Center photo) Beth Weaverling, Ventura County Animal Services, carefully handles one of the eight cockatiels that were caught and moved from the Steckel Park Aviary to make way for construction of a new facility. The birds were caught and moved to Camarillo. (Above right) Virginia Nisbet, Ventura County Animal Services, found catching parakeets not very easy. Eventually all were caught and moved to Camarillo.

Steckel Park Aviary: Birds fly the coop to temporary home in Camarillo

September 14, 2012
Santa Paula News

At Steckel Park Aviary Wednesday there were only 50 birds that had to fly the coop but not all were easy to catch for the ride to their temporary home at the Camarillo Animal Shelter.

It took four Ventura County’s Animal Services Department officers several hours to round up the birds for the trip to the shelter where they will await the completed of the refurbishment and repair of the aviary. 

The primary goal of the operation was to keep the birds calm during the process that included being captured and transferred to the a large trailer that held flight cages and pet carriers to be able to handle all sizes of birds. 

Flight cages will hold the birds at the Camarillo shelter until they are returned to the aviary, which just last year was slated to be closed.

According to Mitch Stone of Santa Paula, who helped found Save the Steckel Park Aviary late last year was pleased.

“Our goal is to get the birds out of there for the shortest possible period and have them returned quickly,” he said. “We have a very ambitious time schedule and project,” that will start September 15.

Although at first those advocating for the aviary, established in the park in the mid-1950s, were at odds with the County of Ventura, which owns Steckel Park - created in the 1920s on land donated by a former Santa Paula mayor - Stone said now “It has definitely become a partnership... “

But there was plenty of controversy when the county announced the aviary would be removed.

Stone said, “Even our Supervisor Kathy Long was surprised,” at the outpouring of objections from the public that quickly turned into an action committee followed by a series of fundraisings for aviary restoration.

Now a new aviary is becoming a reality.

“We are pleased to do our part to house and care for the Steckel Park flock while their aviary home gets a much-needed face lift,” said Donna Gillesby, deputy director of VCAS. 

“Some of the parrots and cockatoos have lived together for years and have become inseparable companions,” and Gillesby said “We will cage these couples together at the shelter to make the transition as easy on them as possible.”

Last year, the county found homes for 62 birds, which have been the focus of study since 2008 leading up to the 2011 finding that the aviary was unsafe. 

Several times since the aviary opened in the 1950s - started more or less as the hobby of Steckel Park Supervisor Allen Smith who lived in the stone cottage on the property - there have been threats to the facility, from closure to wildfire.  

Now, with the aviary rebuilding back on track 

As soon as the birds are relocated to their temporary home, volunteers will start cleaning and refurbishing the large cages at the park. The effort is expected to take about 60 days, and Santa Paula Councilman Ralph Fernandez, who has spearheaded the reconstruction. Fernandez said area contractors and trades people are donating time and materials to clean and rebuild the aviary.

Supervisor Long has become one of the facility’s biggest supporters and has worked with the community as well as VCACS on the project, which is estimated to cost about $100,000. 

But first the birds first had to fly the coop: “It went well,” said Adrienne Stephens, the PIO of the Ventura County Health Care District, which now oversees animal control. 

“Actually, they got all 50 birds loaded up and transported without incident... it was a labor of love,” albeit one that involved “catching them all.

“Some of those smaller birds were good at getting away from the net,” but were carefully captured and removed.

When it came to the larger birds such as the geese, well, noted Stephens, “Sometimes they’re big... “ 

And, not known to be particularly cooperative or gentle creatures.

Stone said Save the Steckel Park Aviary, which has staged several fundraisers including a recent SteckelStock music festival and barbecue at the park, is still raising money for the restoration of the aviary. 

“It was really great that it has all gotten started and is underway,” he said.

“The community has really come out for this and made it happen... it looked like an impossible task when it started,” but noted Stone, “When Santa Paula people get something in their mind they make it happen.”

Fundraising is ongoing: those supporting the Save the Steckel Park Aviary effort can send checks to the Santa Paula Community Fund, with “Steckel Park Aviary” written on the memo line, and mail to 1354 Mariposa Drive, Santa Paula, CA 93060.

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