Aviaries and sanctuaries: Where the birds are

By | July 5, 2017

Of all the cool creatures we share the planet with, birds are among my favorites. This post describes some aviaries and sanctuaries where you can see and learn about birds. (A future post will talk about bird-watching in national wildlife refuges.)

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh may be one of the two biggest destinations for bird lovers in the US. It houses birds from every continent except Antartica. The exhibits show birds in various habitats; several of the exhibits, including the tropical rainforest and wetlands areas, are mixed-species exhibits where the birds have room to fly freely, so you can observe some of their natural behavior.

Another major destination is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, just outside of Ithaca, New York, which has a visitor’s center and offers guided and self-guided bird walks in the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. You can contribute to the lab’s research by participating in various citizen science projects, where you collect and submit data on birds in your area.

Many zoos feature aviaries. The following are notable for focusing on birds from a particular region and/or offering free-flight exhibits.

Photograph of a pair of budgerigars.

A pair of budgerigars. Photo from Pixabay.

  • The Franklin Park Zoo in Boston has two bird exhibits: the Aussie Aviary (seasonal), where you can hang out with the budgies (budgerigars, a type of small, gentle parrot), and the Bird’s World Exhibit, which features birds from around the world.
  • Queens Zoo hosts birds from across the western hemisphere in its aviary, which is housed under a dome dating back to the 1964 World’s Fair.
  • The Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida, also has a budgie habitat, the Budgiery Adventure Aviary, where you can interact with the birds.
  • Wings of Asia at Zoo Miami presents information on the evolution of birds from dinosaurs. A free-flight aviary houses rare and endangered Asian birds in a setting filled with primarily Asian plants.
  • The Matilda R. Wilson Free-Flight Aviary at the Detroit Zoo provides a warm tropical environment where you can sit and watch the birds going about their business.
  • The Louisville Zoo’s Glacier Run exhibit includes the Steller’s Sea Eagle Aviary, which mimics a Russian evergreen forest and houses a pair of Steller’s sea eagles (an endangered bird; the zoo hopes to breed the eagles) and other birds from eastern Russia.
  • Simmons Aviary at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is a free-flight zoo featuring more than 500 birds.
  • The Howard Vollum Aviary at the Oregon Zoo in Portland showcases African birds in a rainforest setting.

It’s not a zoo, but the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona has a lovely walk-in outdoor aviary where you can spot cactus wrens (Arizona’s state bird), Gambel’s quail, and the greater roadrunner, among other local birds. There’s also a hummingbird aviary in the Pollination Gardens exhibit. There is much to love about this museum, but the aviary is one of things I enjoyed the most. (Someday I’ll tell you about one of my favorite rocks.)

Another good spot for birds, although in a very different setting, is the Hixson Family Nature Preserve, which is part of the Garvan Woodland Gardens at Hot Springs National Park. The preserve itself consists of 65 acres of natural woodland; you can follow a boardwalk trail with educational displays about the forest. At the entrance to the preserve, there’s an aviary; the Birdsong Trail, nearly 2 miles long, allows you to explore. Again, there seems to be a lot to love at the Garvan Woodland Gardens (including a model train garden!), but the birds are a noteworthy feature.

Several bird sanctuaries care for wild birds and also have visitor centers or public programs:

  • The Loon Preservation Committee is dedicated to the preservation of loons and loon habitat in New Hampshire. The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, offer a visitor center and two wildlife trails, as well as events such as seasonal loon cruises on Squam Lake and nature talks.
  • The Carolina Raptor Center, Huntersville, North Carolina, treats more than 900 birds of prey each year and returns many of them to the wild. You can walk the Raptor Trail and visit various exhibits; the center also offers various educational programs.
  • The Alabama Wildlife Center, in Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, Alabama, rescues and treats injured or orphaned native birds and offers educational programs and a nature trail with daily raptor feedings.