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No trip to Pittsburgh is complete without a visit to the National Aviary on the city’s North Side. With more than 500 birds and over 150 unique species from around the world, the Aviary has earned the reputation as the premier bird zoo in the United States. Here are the 10 coolest things to see and do when you’re there.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting a baby sloth, add that to your bucket list immediately. The National Aviary houses a cute little two-toed arboreal named Vivien who will provide that opportunity—and she’ll steal your heart in the process.
Gaze into her big brown eyes while she slowly munches on a concoction featuring sweet potatoes and brown rice. (She’s just a baby, so she sometimes has food on her face.) You might even be able to feed her. Give a gentle stroke along her back while one of the Aviary’s handlers cradles her in a pink blanket. Vivien is happy to pose for close-ups, too. Have your smartphone or camera ready to capture all the precious moments you’re sure to encounter—even a “slothie” (a selfie with a sloth).
Note: What’s a sloth doing at the Aviary? Well, they share the same ecosystem as birds from the rainforests of Central and South America, and they spend much of their lives hanging upside down in trees, so it’s a natural fit.
Who among us can resist the charms of a dapper African penguin? There are about 20 of these loveable little waddlers at the Aviary’s popular Penguin Point, an exhibit that looks just like a real penguin colony. They all have names and they’re available to watch in an open-air viewing area while they’re playing, sunning, eating, and swimming.
If you’d prefer to stay inside, you can watch the penguins from a climate-controlled environment and still not miss a thing. In fact, you can also watch them when they’re underwater via a large viewing area or the kid-friendly ViewTube. And be sure to catch one of the two afternoon feedings.
If merely looking at the penguins isn’t enough for you, how about playing with one and petting it in a Penguin Encounter?
A particularly amiable ambassador penguin, who’s quite comfortable being around the Aviary’s many visitors, will volunteer for this meet-and-greet role. You won’t be disappointed. Petting a penguin is a pretty awesome experience. And word is that they’ll play all day if given the chance. You’ll love their never-ending enthusiasm.
What’s an aracari—or more precisely, a curl-crested aracari? Think of a little Toucan Sam, and for a small add-on fee with your admission ticket, you can line up with fellow feeders in the Encounter Tent or FliteZone Theater and enjoy the antics of this cute, colorful creature.
Hold a piece of food in the palm of your hand (they love blueberries) and watch as the aracari emerges from its cage, lands on your arm, and gently picks at the morsel with its long beak. It’s equal parts amazing and adorable.
The majestic bald eagle is a symbol of strength and freedom in America, and the Aviary hosts two of them, named Abby and Liberty, in an exhibit next to Penguin Point. Watch as these awesome birds sternly survey their surroundings, moving from limb to limb in one of the Aviary’s Main Hall exhibits.
Next door to the Bald Eagles are two Sea Eagles, Aleutia and Kodiak. These are some of the largest species of eagles in the world. Also, look for a pair of Eurasian eagle-owls, X and Dumbledore, the largest owls in Africa.
The Wetlands is one of three free-flight exhibit areas at the Aviary, where flamingos, pelicans, and many more roam among its visitors. That’s where you come in.
Twice a day, you have the opportunity to feed the flock. Join in the fun by raising a worm or small fish above your head, then get ready as one of the residents swoops overhead to pick the food from your fingers. This is just plain fun. You won’t want to leave. For a small extra fee, you can toss little fish to hungry brown pelicans.
Do bats give you the creeps? Visit Canary’s Call, a museum-style storytelling area with interpretive displays, and you might change your mind.
These are not the bats you’re used to seeing in your backyard trees during the summer. They’re much bigger. As nocturnal mammals, these giant, Asian fruit bats (aka Malayan Flying Foxes) sleep during the day, hanging upside down from a custom-built tree. But they wake for a mid-afternoon snack of assorted fruits and veggies (like red grapes, papaya, and corn on the cob), and you can watch them eat—upside down, of course.
Canary’s Call is a fascinating exhibit. The birds here bring the stories to life. When you add a giant bat feeding to the mix, it’s a must-see event.
One of the most popular exhibits at the Aviary is the Tropical Rainforest. Here you will enjoy the
perks of the rainforest, where it’s nice and warm—a perfect getaway during Pittsburgh’s cold winter months. You’ll also get to see a flock of Victoria crowned pigeons and macaws (large, long-tailed parrots—the longest in the world).
This is also home to one of the Aviary’s most famous residents: Tyler, a playful and very intelligent hyacinth macaw who has appeared alongside Steve Irwin’s son Robert on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Note: The Tropical Rainforest is undergoing a $1.2-million renovation that will be officially unveiled in the summer of 2018.
If you love small birds, a stroll through the Grasslands will provide a rare opportunity to mix and mingle with them.
Several species native to grassland areas around the world will greet you. Look for a variety of finches, sparrows, a paradise whydah, and more and watch for them to fly right past you as they traverse through seaside oats, bayberry, birch, dogwood, and more.
Before leaving the Aviary, be sure to take a spin on the breathtakingly awesome Birdly exhibit. The process is simple. Climb onto the simulator—chest down, as though you were a bird flying, with your arms spread apart. Then flap your arms using the hinged wings.
You control the direction and speed of flight and the VR headset does the rest. You’ll actually feel like a bird as you soar over and around New York City’s monstrous skyscrapers. So cool.
There is so much more to do at the National Aviary. Check their website (Aviary.org) for additional offerings, plus details on current and upcoming events.