It all started with his first green-winged macaw named Julia, says Victor Hernandez, the bird expert at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino. An animal lover in general, Hernandez became enchanted with (and adopted multiple) exotic birds while working at a pet store in his early 20s. That job led to a 30-years-and-counting career as a hotel bird expert.
When the pet store was called to service the birds at a local hotel, Hernandez would bring along his own just for kicks. “And people would go crazy, and people started taking pictures and such,” he says. “Then I was hired by that hotel because they saw the potential of having the interactions.”
Now, Hernandez takes care of Hilton Aruba’s 13 tropical birds, from macaws to cockatoos to Amazon and African parrots. Six days a week, he leads a one-hour interaction with the birds for hotel guests, locals and cruising visitors alike, with the fun sometimes including a photo shoot that Hernandez loves to direct. One guest, duly impressed, even christened him the “bird whisperer.”
How do you orchestrate visitors’ photos with the birds?
I make the kids look like models — I make them pose, make them funny. People enjoy it. People are different, so we try to adapt with their style.
What are some things you’ve learned about exotic birds?
They surprise you every day — their intelligence, their feelings. I let them do their natural thing, but in their natural behavior, they are amazingly problem-solving. A bird brain must be a compliment because they are very intelligent.
What is special about the Hilton’s bird interactions? I think animals have a healing power of some kind. You can get a shy child to become proud and secure of himself, all because of a beautiful animal. So that is the importance of having the program. That is why I am doing it.
National park: Arikok National Park covers about 18 percent of Aruba. The park preserves the flora, fauna, geology and history of the island.
Antilla shipwreck: This nearly 400-foot ship, scuttled off Aruba in 1940, is still mostly intact. Teeming with coral, fish and more, it is a prime diving locale.
Amuse sunset: Named after the view, this oceanside restaurant’s atmosphere is an island favorite, as is its often locally sourced food.