(Photo above left) Rebecca Weaverling (County Animal Services) carefully hands Tom Ochoa (County Animal Services) one of several cockatiels that were returned to the Santa Paula Aviary at Steckel Park. (Center photo) Rebecca Weaverling (County Animal Services) works to catch the parakeets that were returned to the Santa Paula Aviary. These geese (above right) were returned to the Santa Paula Aviary and immeditaly began checking out their new enclsoure, including a large swimming area.

Dozens of birds spread their wings at refurbished Steckel Park Aviary

June 21, 2013
Santa Paula News

Danny Real was watching as Ventura County Animal Services returned about 50 birds to the Steckel Park Aviary Tuesday. “I’ll be helping to take care of them,” said the Junior Ranger as he eyed a two geese that had already been transferred from traveling cages to their refurbished home just north of Santa Paula.

An avian shriek split the air that kicked off a dialogue of chattering, coos, squawking and a loud “Hello!” among the birds — doves, parakeets and cockatiels and a cockatoo, among them — that had already been unloaded. “Hello” indeed: just last year the debilitated aviary was almost shuttered. 

When the community learned that the county had plans to demolish the aviary, citizens rallied and “Save the Steckel Park Aviary” — led by Mitch Stone and Councilman Ralph Fernandez — was created. A formal ribbon cutting is in the near future.

Steckel Park — named for the Mayor who donated the parkland in the 1920s — has been a home to the aviary for decades, a destination visited by families, individuals and organizations. VCHCA PIO Adrienne Stephens recalled a decade ago campout with the YMCA Indian Guides, kids who were preschool to young teens who “visited the birds… the transformation is astonishing, it’s beautiful now.”

Ron Van Dyck, county parks director, said the cost of the aviary is probably about $182,000 when the 4,400 hours of volunteer labor, donated materials, county staff time and other costs are factored in. Original estimates were about $150,000 and although initial talks made it seem the center might be downsized it was kept at the original 170’ by 45’ size; new are ADA ramps, decorative post fencing and plantings to shore up the Santa Paula Creek bank just east of the aviary that has threatened the facility in the past. 

Van Dyck said as the DG groundcover becomes compacted it will still allow drainage. He is also pleased at the results: “There was a lot of expertise” in the volunteer pool that donated labor and materials including concrete and dumpsters.... The bulk of the hours was stretching the mesh,” different densities that cover the cage exteriors from top to bottom. 

Van Dyck said although the footprint of the aviary remains the same, the number of cages was reduced slightly: “It was opened up to give the birds more room,” he noted. 

Plants were carefully selected to be specific for the various bird species. Several of the birds, although indoor species were “grandfathered in” by Mother Nature during their previous stay, but Van Dyck said future residents would strictly be of the outdoor variety from an approved species list.

Some species are now caged together and enjoying the company, which could also now be applied to the community and the county, which initially had butted heads over the aviary. The birds were moved to the county shelter in September and work began.

“I’m just so happy,” said Donna Gillesby, deputy director of county animal services. “The birds were ready to stretch their wings” in the larger quarters.

Animal Control Officer Rebecca Weaverling was helping to offload pigeons, some being reluctant to move away from the transport cage. Part of the problem, said Weaverling, is “They think the shelter is their home now and if they got out they would try to fly back there.” A peahen was nesting in a plastic dog house while her peacock mate strutted nearby, his elaborate feathered tail belying the shriek he let loose at his other to a visitor.

“Save the Aviary” volunteers worked more than 100 days on the project, mostly on weekends, according to the fact sheet provided by the county that detailed volunteer efforts. According to Kristy Onstot her father Jim Onstot’s construction firm, JMJ Builders, was the main contractor; Onstot as well as Dr. Dick Yamamoto, Fernandez and Joe Perez worked every weekend on the project. 

Mike Gray of US Detection Dogs arranged for Rock & Water Creations to donate the waterfall plastered by Joey Garcia of JG Plastering, an addition now enjoyed by the birds. 

Elena Torres had come to Steckel Park with her children to picnic and was delighted to see birds again in the Aviary. “I used to come here with break crumbs when I was just a little girl,” she said. “It’s just wonderful that it’s been rebuilt and we can enjoy it again as a family.”

“We’re extremely happy at the partnership between the community and the county,” said Van Dyck. “It took longer to do than we first thought but the end product is great.”

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