Years ago in Walt Disney World’s Adventureland there was a bird selling refreshing drinks in the hot Florida weather. This wasn’t Zazu or Iago, this fellow was way before them and was a local bird to Florida only, though you wouldn’t find him on any bird guide if you went hiking. You could only find him in Walt Disney World, serving delicious orange drinks with vanilla ice cream that could rival the legendary Dole Whip.
Who is this bird? The Orange Bird of course.
The Orange Bird didn’t exactly fly South for the winter, but for years wasn’t seen in Walt Disney World, lost all but to nostalgia, that is, until a few years ago when he returned home with his drink.
The Orange Bird doesn’t look like an ordinary bird. He has an orange for a head and green leaves for wings. While most birds sing and chirp, the Orange Bird couldn’t, so he communicated through “thought form”, little orange smoke clouds that appeared over his head like the word balloon in a newspaper comic strip. Created in 1971, The Orange Bird graced the Sunshine Tree Terrace in the Magic Kingdom as well as walked around for meet & greets outside the Tiki Room (one could only imagine what Iago would have thought of this “loitering” while he was manager). The Florida Citrus Commission (or the Florida Citrus Growers) licensed the Orange Bird for merchandise which appeared in citrus and fruit stands across the Florida highways and state. In exchange for the license, The Florida Citrus Commission sponsored the Sunshine Tree Terrace and was one of the first sponsors in Walt Disney World.
In 1971 the Sherman Brothers wrote six songs for a Disneyland long playing record that told the origin of the Orange Bird. The record came with a full color book written by Jimmy Johnson and starred Anita Bryant. During the 1970’s the Orange Bird became the spokes ”bird” for The Florida Citrus Commission, appearing in television commercials and other forms of advertisements. The Orange Bird also appeared in the educational film “Food & Fun: A Nutrition Adventure” in September 1980.
Between the years of 1971-1987 Orange Bird merchandise could be bought in Disney World (as well as those Citrus & Fruit stands along Florida’s highways). One of the most common souvenirs was the cup the drink was sold in. But in 1987 The Florida Citrus Commission ended their sponsorship, and the Orange Bird went away.
But that wouldn’t be the last Disney fans would see of the little orange guy. In 2004, for Japan’s annual Orange day celebration, the Orange Bird flew to Tokyo Disneyland where he found new friends and new merchandise was made. Then in 2012, at a D23 convention, he made a cameo appearance and returned once more to his home in Adventureland. For this happy occasion the original Orange Bird statue was found in the Disney Archives, sent to Walt Disney World Imagineers to be refurbed, and sits once more at the Sunshine Tree Terrace watching Guests enjoy his drink.
Today Orange Bird merchandise ranges from car antenna toppers to pins, “Mickey Ears”, figurines, magnets, throw pillows, t-shirts, and pitcher & juice glasses.
They say you can’t go home again, but for the Orange Bird, it looks like you can, and that’s just what he did. Welcome home, old pal.
Dedicated to my wife, whose idea it was to write this piece for I Geek Disney.