By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
We’ve heard of hotel pets (Ziggy, the dog at Montpelier Plantation & Beach on Nevis springs to mind) but we’ve never heard of hotels with an entire collection on hand for guests’ enjoyment.
At the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, guests can pet, pose with or simply stare in awe at the family of 13 parrots, cockatoos and macaws that live within the hotel’s lush beachfront property. Housed in a clutch of cages beneath the shade of a broad-leafed tree, the plumed pets are cared for by “bird whisperer” Victor Hernandez, who also leads a complimentary interaction session every day (except Wednesday) at 11:00am sharp.
Hernandez says he’s always loved birds, and has worked with them now for 30 years. He started at a neighboring Palm Beach hotel but for the past 17 he’s been at the Hilton, where raising a second family of 13 green-winged, blue and gold macaws; silver-crested and umbrella cockatoos; Amazon parrots; and a red-billed toucan is literally his full-time job.
The birds all come from various South American countries and have been raised entirely in captivity. They’re fed commercially produced pellets, fruit, vegetables and mixed seeds during Hernandez’ half-hour-long sessions, a man-meets-birds-meets-guests love fest that involves letting them fly free from their cages to sit on guest’s shoulders or pose on their forearms for gleeful Instagram photos and “OMG, look at me!” Snapchats.
Clearly a photography buff as well as a birding expert, Hernandez knows exactly how to pose you and your new feathered friends for maximum impact. With the bird on your arm and your arm held high, walk into the breeze and the bird will likely unfurl his wings, displaying its impressive span (and your impressed face) for the camera and all your Facebook fans. Alternatively, Hernandez will pose you meticulously on the rocks by a lagoon-style pool, placing a bird each on your shoulder and on one calf for a photo you (or your twitter followers) won’t soon forget.
It’s all in a day’s work for Hernandez, whose charges follow him around like children, constantly demanding his attention along with their lunch. But since the lifespan of a macaw can be as long as 70 years, many of the birds will still be around long after their human caretaker has left this earth. But one gets the feeling that it doesn’t bother Hernandez. Because, like any parent, he fully expects his “children” – feathered or not – to outlive him.