Words by Amanda Cooney • Photos by Diana Boura
Pittsburgh is full of unique and exceptional institutions; we are very lucky to have such a wealth of knowledge and resources in our own backyards. One of my favorites is the National Aviary located on the city’s North Side. The National Aviary touts itself as being “America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds.” It is home to over 500 birds of 150 different species as well as some accompanying mammals including six Malayan Flying Foxes and two sloths.
I recently took a trip to my favorite spot in town and was able to participate in some of the new activities they are featuring for the upcoming season. As we arrived, they were wrapping up feeding the penguins. For an additional fee, the Aviary is offering one-of-a-kind encounters such as feeding their African Penguins, interacting with the sloths, trekking through the wetlands with flamingos, and so much more.
Guests can also interact with the Aviary’s residents during regular feeding times which are included in general admission. During my recent trip, we were able to sit in on a feeding of the two-toed sloth, Valentino, the Malayan Flying Foxes, and the birds in the Wetlands. The Aviary does a stellar job at not only providing a home for these animals to live, but also using them to teach the public about issues they face that are mostly caused by humans. Ways we can change our habits were discussed in these sessions such as using the Monterey Bay’s guide for fish consumption or consulting an app that will tell you if products you buy use sustainable palm oil. If you arrive earlier in the day you can also watch the Aracari’s, Condors, and Lorikeets be fed.
Using new technology, SOMNIACS, a Swiss company, and the Pittsburgh International Airport brings Birdly® to the Aviary. For an additional charge, Aviary guests can participate in a full-body virtual reality experience that allows them to see what it’s like to fly like an eagle around New York City. Participants lie face down on the simulator, look into an HTC VIve headset, and flap their arms to control the direction and speed of their flight; there is also a fan blowing in your face to simulate the air that would be blowing as you soar through the sky. The flight is also displayed on a screen behind the simulator so spectators can also witness their journey.
These are just a few of the new and returning programs to the National Aviary this summer. To plan your trip, visit their website at aviary.org. If you are interested in the taking the steps to changing your seafood consumption habits, as I mentioned, visit seafoodwatch.org or download the Seafood Watch app. To check to see if the products you buy contain sustainable palm oil, search “Palm Oil” in the app store for several helpful apps.