It’s only been more recently that I’ve started being a tourist in my backyard, visiting tourist attractions here in the Pittsburgh area. Although Pittsburgh is nowhere near to the degree of New York City or Chicago in terms of tourist offerings, it still has a sizable amount, many of which are extremely interesting and unique. With my parents’ most recent visit to Pittsburgh, I decided we would visit the National Aviary, which is located in the city’s historic North Side. It’s America’s only independent, indoor, nonprofit aviary and is the country’s largest. It also has the distinction of being accorded the only honorary “National” status by the United States Congress, so you can see it’s already a pretty special place.
The aviary is home to more than 600 birds of more than 200 species, many of which are threatened or endangered in the wild. While I wish all animals could live in their natural habitats, much preferring to see them out in the wild, I know that without institutions like zoos and aviaries, many birds and other animals would be extinct. When a rainforest is razed for development, when poachers hunt game to the point of making a particular species become extinct, it’s places like the National Aviary that ensure these animals’ survival. In each of the rooms there was a map and information chart which featured a picture of a bird along with its native geographic habitat. My mom pointed out one that was indigenous only to Madagascar, one of the most remote island nations in the world, and that is the only place where that particular bird can be found. So while their artificial home pales in comparison to the wild, the alternative is certainly far less desirable.
The aviary is grouped into different sections including the tropical rainforest, grasslands, wetlands, and areas which include a specific type of bird such as Andean condors, penguins, bald eagles, sea eagles, and my personal favorite, toucans. We began our visit to the tropical rainforest. Although some sections of the aviary did have the birds separated from visitors, in the rainforest the birds flew free (at least within the vast and high stretches of the room). I have to admit there were a couple of moments when a low flying bird truly startled me for how close it flew to my head and yet on the other hand, it’s neat knowing that unlike some other animals, the birds at the aviary were not at all scared by visitors; they simply went about their business. The most astounding thing I saw was not a bird but rather a massive nest high up in a tree. One thinks of birds’ nests and envisions something incredibly small; this nest looked as if it would house a medium size animal, certainly not a bird. While the streets of Pittsburgh were right outside, inside the tropical rainforest, amongst the fast flying movement of the birds and their chatter, and the slightly warmer, more humid temperatures, it did feel as if one were in a tropical rainforest. My favorite residents that we encountered would have to be Benito, a Hyacinth Macaw and his roommate, Killer, a Green-winged Macaw. Their colors are just striking, befitting such incredibly exotic animals.
I love penguins. They are one of the main reasons I am dying to visit the Galapagos Islands (well, them and seals). Penguins Point at the Aviary is home to 12 African penguins, also known as Jackass penguins because of their donkey-like bray. Penguin Point was designed to resemble the rocky shores of South Africa and it was an utter delight seeing the almost childlike behavior of the penguins-chasing after each other, pushing each other, waddling along the rocks. They are certainly a type of animal that does not stay still for very long, making their antics highly adorable.
As I mentioned above, my favorite bird at the Aviary was the toucan (of which there are two) simply because it brought back so many terrific memories of my semester in Costa Rica, a country home to multitudes of them. It is one of the prettiest birds ever, its bright and vivid colors almost looking fake, and yet are not. What made the toucans so memorable to me was a non-aviary friend that shared their quarters- an oso perezoso, or sloth. In Costa Rica I did have the pleasure of being able to see multiple sloths simply because they barely move (they come down from their home in the trees once a week to “go to the bathroom”). Although the sloth at the Aviary was somewhat hard to locate due to how much he blended in with the trees, I was eventually able to make out his reclining upside down shape and his claws. Oso perezosos are one of the main reasons I want to go back to Costa Rica; their faces will just put the biggest smile on your face.
There are countless other birds, equally as adorable as the ones I’ve mentioned, but instead of making this post any longer, I will just recommend a visit to the Aviary instead. If a trip to Pittsburgh is not in the planning itinerary, then here are some photos that will make you want to visit soon.