On our way home from traveling 15,000 miles chasing birds all across the country, we stopped at a park in downtown Pittsburgh and came across the broadest collection of birds we’d seen anywhere in one place.
It was the National Aviary, which could be called the international aviary. Hundreds of birds from six continents pass so close by in many of the chambers that you can feel the wind from their beating wings. Some of the world’s most precious birds – Andean Condors, Birds-of-Paradise, African Penguins, toucans, hornbills and cuckoos – share the stage with more common owls, gulls, doves and pigeons.
With fall migration behind us, we thought this would be a good time to consider how aviaries and zoos can help birders get through the slower times and open up the wider world of birds we can’t see otherwise. Our travels let us visit a series of zoos, bird parks and indoor aviaries along with dozens of conservation projects, research centers and bird hotspots. While we all prefer to see our birds in the wild, institutions such as the National Aviary play a distinct role in a time when birds are in trouble.
“It is very powerful to see a bird, like a Guam Kingfisher which is extinct in the wild, up close, just feet away from you, and to understand that this bird is one of only a couple hundred left in the world,’’ said Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the aviary. “It gives visitors a sense of how urgently needed conservation efforts are.’’
The aviary sponsors conservation projects around the world, including on some of the toughest challenges for birds. It’s researching ways of battling back against invasive species in the Pacific Islands, studying how Andean Condors in the mountains of South America react to climate change, and exploring migration across the hemisphere through the experiences of the Louisiana Waterthrush.