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Big dream takes flight

A rose-breasted cockatoo named Galahad sits on a perch in his cage at the Beaumont farm of Wende DeOliveira.

Don Carey/the times leader

BEAUMONT – Perhaps Wende DeOliveira’s plan is no more plausible than the one that preceded it at the nondescript old farmstead nestled on the sloping marshland off Crow Hill Road.

A world-class rare-bird conservatory, on par with the National Aviary in Pittsburgh that’s funded by millions in donations? Maybe it is no more likely to succeed than the Ocean Lotus Farm Bed and Breakfast that used to inhabit the rural farm, but that’s no matter to DeOliveira.

“The facility will still be built; the birds will still come. … I’ll still do what I’ve always done,” she said. It’s just that, “it’ll be smaller.”

Small is not DeOliveira’s goal, however. Walking through the bucolic 36 acres where she hopes to open at least part of the center by next year, she points to places and describes what she envisions. The five ponds will be fenced in and inhabited by native and exotic waterfowl, from wood ducks and Canada geese to swans and flamingos. The barn, with its Buddhist-retreat-style renovations, will house conventions, demonstrations, exhibits, botanical gardens, whatever. Downstairs, where silky chickens and peafowl currently roam, will be rearranged into a full-fledged petting zoo. Sasha the emu already has a space. Trails will be tamed for nature walks, bird-watching, butterfly-studying. The whole farm, all 86 acres, will be open to falconry.

But the keystone will be out in a grassy field. There, DeOliveira plans to install a conservatory for her primary avian love: tropical birds. She’ll move out of the house the various species of cockatoos, toucans and hornbills she currently has and ship in her other exotic birds that are currently housed on the West Coast.

“I work with some of the rarest birds on the planet every day, and I never take that for granted,” she said. “I’d say it’s more of an avocation turning into a vocation."

From there, she’d like to add a butterfly conservatory and raptor housing, seek volunteers, hire local ecologists.

But first, she needs to build the facility and gain zoo accreditation, and to do that, she needs money. DeOliveira has some; having trained with the Wild Samoans in Allentown, she was a professional wrestler in the World Wresting Federation during its heyday in the 1980s. That money allowed her to acquire the $1-million farm.

But there’s more to pay for. “I’m not a millionaire,” she said. “It’s going to take millions to work.”

That’s why she’s holding a fundraising festival at the would-be conservatory on July 18. The admission-free event will feature a petting zoo, horse rides, visits from animal rescues, food, stuff to buy, raffles, a silent auction, educational demonstrations and a slew of bands.

Beyond the fundraising, the event will both raise awareness of the project and measure public interest in it, DeOliveira said. If the money isn’t raised or the interest isn’t there, she won’t open to the public. That’ll save her from having to build the facility to specific standards to meet the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ accreditation requirements.

Still, she’d like to take it public so she can get approval to receive birds from other facilities. “If you’re going to make a difference, you have to put the time in. You have to make it bigger and better,” she said. “Sometimes, if you want to progress to a further goal … you have to stick your neck out there a little bit.”

Her interest started about 12 years ago when she and her son met a woman in Wilkes-Barre to look over her assortment of cockatoos. Among them was a young white one. “He was four months old, and the crest (of feathers on his head) was the biggest thing on him,” she remembered. He walked over to her son’s foot, hopped on it and looked up at him. They christened him Woody, and he became the namesake of both DeOliveira’s former restaurant, Woody Brown’s, and the new eco center.

“Woody started it, and it just snowballed from there,” she said.

If you go

What: A fundraiser and interest-gathering festival

When: July 18, day and night.

Where: the future site of Woody Acres Avian Conservation Eco Center on Crow Hill Road, Beaumont

Who: Various animal rescues will attend, offering horse rides and a petting zoo. Vendors will have products and food. There will be a silent auction and educational demonstrations. Various bands, including George Wesley’s S.A.O., Woody Brown’s Project, Forever Oeuvre, Fedora Slim and Mother Nature’s Son, will play.

Info: For more, go to: www.woodyacres.org.

To see additional photos, visit www.times

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