What's inside a Tiki Bird?

Kevin Kidney owns a couple of audio-animatronic birds from the Enchanted Tiki Room, the first Disney showcase for robotic animals, still running and glorious today — he's decided to make them good as new, and is documenting his process.

As Kidney dissects and rebuilds these robotic birds, he's posting photos and notes from the process, revealing the cunning mechanisms that the Imagineers of the early 1960s — Roger Broggie and Bob Gurr (designers) and Harriet Burns, Leota Toombs, and Glendra von Kessel (implementers) — hand-crafted for these tiny bots.

Both robins arrived at our studio in pretty bad shape, with soiled fur, overly-handled feathers, and fiberglass parts gritty from too many coats of paint and hardened glue. The photos below were shot after a weeklong deep cleaning inside and out, priming and painting. I built display perches and replaced the birds' missing feet. I removed their back panels and thoroughly cleaned the inner-workings.

It's amazing how much is packed into the interior of a tiny bird. Two rubber hoses, each roughly the thickness of a spaghetti noodle, carry air pressure through the bird's legs into the two cylindrical chambers in his body. The left cylinder operates the tail, and the right cylinder turns the head side to side.

…For this variation, the tail moves, but not the head. Instead the right cylinder pushes open the wings which are hinged at the shoulder. Black electrical wires lead to the head where audio impulses synched to the show's soundtrack would operate a tiny magnet behind the lower jaw, making his beak open and close. When the five robins in each birdcage are moving together, the resulting performance seems choreographed to the music.

Fancy Feathers: Restoring Tiki Room Birds
[Kevin Kidney]