As residents of Pittsburgh, we know we're a lucky bunch.
Part of what makes Pittsburgh so unique are gems like the National Aviary. If you haven't been there lately - or ever - you are truly missing out. I had two out of town guests visit me in Pittsburgh in July and the National Aviary was at the top of our list. We had an absolute blast. We saw tons of feathered friends, met a baby sloth, finger-fed beautiful butterflies, and so much more!
What makes the National Aviary one of Pittsburgh's greatest treasures? With over 500 birds and 150 species in their facility - many of them threatened or endangered - the Aviary has strong conservation programs and champions important biodiversity efforts. As America's only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds, the Aviary is a unique and important part of the national conservation movement. The National Aviary is a force for good, and your visit helps them to achieve their mission of inspiring respect for nature through an appreciation of birds!
Two of my favorite places in the Aviary were Condor Court and the Butterfly Garden. Condor Court is the Aviary's newest exhibit, which provides an expansive outdoor home for four Andean Condors. This beautiful new exhibit allows you to get up close and personal with the Condors through large glass viewing panels that make you feel that you can reach out and touch them. While at the Aviary, I learned that Andean condors are some of the largest raptors in the world with a wingspan of 10 feet and that the National Aviary is the only zoo in North America to have two pairs of Andean Condors that are managed for breeding and conservation efforts. Also in Condor court you can find a Bald Eagle and two Cabot's Tragopan – a pheasant native to south-east China.
The outdoor Butterfly Garden at the Aviary is a wonderful addition to the birds that can be found inside. Basically, a large netted tent, the butterfly garden houses local species up close. Butterflies can even be (very gently) hand fed! I learned all about their migration routes and their role in the ecosystem. Make sure to visit this exhibit soon - it closes in mid-September!
If you visit the National Aviary soon, you'll also get to see baby Valentino, the two-toed sloth. Although he spends most of his time resting, he often makes special appearances and you can watch a trainer feed him while learning interesting facts about sloths. (Did you know they are most vulnerable when they descend from their tree to use the bathroom - which is only once a week! You're welcome!)
Unlike many zoos around the world, the Aviary offers unique engagement opportunity for guests. Their two daily shows ("Nature's Voice" and "Soar") are free flight bird shows. "Soar" takes place on the rooftop of the Aviary and highlights birds of prey, including falcons, hawks, and black kites. We did not get to see Soar, but I wish we had, especially because this show ends with the summer season on September 5th.
We did attend "Nature's Voice" and both my guests and I were impressed with the quality of the show. Flamingos, burrowing owls, vultures, and more visited us and demonstrated their unique qualities. Even though I eagerly volunteered to feed the birds with a meatball stick during part of the show and was passed over in favor of the younger members of the audience (kids always win!) I rallied and enjoyed the conservation and environmental message at the heart of the show.
In addition to the shows, there are many options for interactive encounters with the birds at the Aviary. You can frolic with a flamingo, paint with a penguin, visit with a vulture or other bird of prey, dissect an owl pellet, or feed Wookie, the baby sloth. You can even be a trainer for a day!
Both of the shows and the interactive encounters are an additional charge for Aviary guests. However, there is a robust schedule of interactive feedings throughout the day that guests can participate in for no additional charge. You can feed tropical birds with meal worms in the Tropical Forest, fish, and worms in the Wetlands, Lorikeet with cups of nectar, and watch trainers feed the penguins and bats their lunch while sharing interesting facts with you.
If you're looking for even more fun at the National Aviary, they always have interesting programs happening. At the time of this blog, one could attend "Yoga with Penguins", "Butterflies and Jazz", and "Penguins and PJs". You can even have your birthday party, wedding, meeting, or corporate event at the National Aviary. The true bird fanatics can even adopt a bird!
If all of this is giving you a desire to see some birds but you don't have time to see the National Aviary quite yet, make sure to check out the Penguin Cam!
The National Aviary is a unique Pittsburgh treasure, and unfortunately, it too often flies under the radar. My experience has absolutely earned the National Aviary a place on my "Must Visit in Pittsburgh" list (which actually exists!). Make sure you make time to head over, and I'm sure you'll be just as impressed as I was.
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Molly Allwein loves traveling the world, her three rescue dogs, and indulging in brunch & happy hour. Her favorite things about living in Pittsburgh are the $10 opera tickets, the robust community and philanthropic organizations, and the amazing culinary scene.