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Monday, September 16, 2013

Zoo Review: National Aviary

As much as I love the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, I do have to admit – the bird collection is rather small.  That’s okay by me, though.  It just means that when I’m in Pittsburgh, I have an excuse to drive across town to see one of the country’s best bird displays at the excellent National Aviary.
As a facility, the National Aviary is limited by its campus.  Except for the attached condor and eagle enclosures, the Aviary is one building with no outdoor components.  This does limit the collection, and some visitors might be disappointed to see that some of the largest and most popular zoo birds – such as the ratites and the cranes – are not featured here. Inside, however, you can find a very impressive selection of birds from around the world, including many rarities from a zoo perspective.

Most of the birds are encountered in three habitat-themed walk-through aviaries, each allowing the visitor to walk among an impressive assortment of birds.  In the Wetland, visitors walk along the water’s edge, where American flamingos strut and pelicans swim, while Incaterns wheel overhead and curassows perch on guard rails.   Beautiful finches and doves flit about in the Grassland.  In the Tropical Rainforest, ibises, macaws, and starlings are among the birds encountered.  The disadvantage (for the visitor) of such massive aviaries is that it can make it difficult to find some of the birds, but when you do spot them, it’s a great treat.  I spent twenty minutes alone in the Rainforest trying to find and photograph the African jacana, a splay-footed bird that walks across lily pads.  I never did get a good picture, but it was incredible to watch the beautiful little bird as it popped in and out of view, weaving its way through the water and ducking behind roots and vines.
There are single-species exhibits as well, the most impressive of which hold the Aviary’s biggest birds – Andean condors, bald eagles, and (my favorite) stunning Steller’s sea eagles.  Other displays include rhinoceros hornbills, spectacled owls, and a wonderful African penguin display, complete with underwater viewing.  A special window allows guests a peak behind-the-scenes to watch aviculturalists prepare diets for their charges.

For most visitors, the lorikeet feeding aviary is the highlight.  For a facility that is literally one building, the National Aviary has a lot of great opportunities to get personal with the birds.  Besides the lorikeet feedings and the walk-through aviaries, there are free flight bird shows, educational interactions, and even special encounters that allows visitors to meet the penguins and flamingos.  The National Aviary is truly one of the best facilities in America for bringing people and birds together.

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