Fletcher and Isabel Hollingsworth love all 300 to 400 birds in their care at Parrot Mountain and Gardens in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and the 500 others at their breeding farm.
But Isabel’s favorite is a blue and gold macaw that hatched in 1993 while she was still a newlywed. The bird’s name is Praise.
“You ask, ‘What’s the good news?’ and he always says, ‘Praise the lord,’ “ Isabel said. “Preachers come here all the time and say they want to take the bird with them because they can’t get their congregations to say ‘Amen’ when they preach.”
A proselytizing parrot is no accident at this hillside haven. Scripture postings throughout the park and a prayer garden adorned with religious statues unmistakably reflect the Hollingsworths’ Christian faith. But this picturesque 4-acre paradise – a short drive from two area resorts – is universally appealing to visitors of all beliefs. Here you can watch, feed and even converse with some of the most colorful and intelligent feathered creatures on the planet. Or if you wish, you can seek out and enjoy a little shade and solitude amid the squawking. “The scriptures are there if you want to read them,” Isabel said. ”But some people just love being around birds and nature.”
Parrot Mountain and Gardens Now
Business has been so good since Parrot Mountain and Gardens opened in 2002 that the Hollingsworths recently expanded the park’s deli menu and plan to add a wedding chapel in the future.
Parrot Mountain and Gardens is a circuit of open paths that loop through gardens enclosed by netting. As a visitor, you’ll pass exhibit after exhibit of species after species housed in aviaries modeled after quaint English cottages. The birds represent 135 different species and include everything from toucans to African greys. And these birds say the darndest things. They’ll even sing. One knows the words to “Rocky Top.” Another gives out high fives.
“Some learn up to 250 or 300 words. They have the intelligence of 7- or 8-year-olds,” Isabel said.
The three main gardens have respective themes: the Secret Garden, the bird garden and the prayer garden.
Hornbills, magpies and other birds fly freely under the netting and above the tropic landscaping of the Secret Garden, or as Isabel calls it, “a garden within a garden.” Inside the netted bird garden, coin-operated machines dispense feed that birds will eat directly from the palms of your hands. “You could spend an hour in there just feeding the birds,” Isabel said.
Another popular attraction is the netted lorie aviary. These colorful birds of the parrot family love nectar and rise and descend like paratroopers—parrot-troopers?—to drink from cups provided at the entry.
The bird population grew from a collection accumulated by Fletcher Hollingsworth before the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 curtailed the importing of endangered exotic birds. “He had traveled the world, to Honduras and different parts of South America,” Isabel said. “It’s his collection. I just married into it.”
In addition to showcasing birds, the Hollingsworths also take in and, with the help of a local avian veterinarian, care for abandoned and abused birds. Some of the donated birds eventually transition to public display. “The ones donated to us, we don’t know what they went through before coming to us. They might have a little attitude.” Those less-socialized birds live in clearly marked cages unexposed to public handling. The rest of the birds at Parrot Mountain and Gardens – the ones, Isabel said, “that we raise from babies” – are safe to touch. So much so that you’re not only invited to hold them, you’ll delight in being photographed with them perched on your head and across your shoulders.
Parrot Mountain and Gardens offers a setting so breathtaking that it draws 20 to 25 outdoor weddings a year. But it’s the birds that set this place apart from other Smoky Mountain vacation attractions. It’s the birds that enthrall you from the moment you arrive – as so many vacationers before you have discovered – until the moment you leave.
As Isabel Hollingsworth said: “You say ‘hello,’ they say ‘hello.’ You say ‘bye-bye,’ they say ‘bye-bye.’ ”
You’ll truly be at a loss for words.
The birds will not.