Several unique birds have made the National Aviary their new home just in time for the new year to take off. An exciting new habitat and daily educational programming launched on Thursday, Jan. 10,  to celebrate these new residents, some of whom have never been seen before in Pittsburgh.

Story and photos by Melissa Yang

The National Aviary’s brand new Andean Mountain Habitat was built from the ground up to feature two unusual species—the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and the Capuchinbird. Both are lek performing frugivores, meaning they are fruit eaters who partake in elaborate and competitive mating rituals. The male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, typically found in and along the ravines and streams of mountainous forests around the Andes Mountains, is stunning with his bright red body plumage and a crest so large it nearly obscures his beak; the female is similar in silhouette but more subdued in shade. The brownish and bald Capuchinbirds, named for their feathery neck cowls reminiscent of the cloaked hoods of Capuchin monks, are appropriately modest in appearance but vocalize in startlingly loud bellows. Typically found north of the Amazon River in humid forest environments, the birds have a call supposedly similar to the sound of cattle, which has led some to refer to the species as Calfbirds.

Educational talks are given daily at noon at the Andean Mountain Habitat to introduce visitors to these birds and their new home. This featured exhibit was built from the ground up with a few main goals in mind, as described by Kurt Hundgen, Director of Animal Collections. In addition to meeting the birds’ needs and providing visitors with ample viewing from multiple angles, they seek to “maximize the socialization behavior” of the birds and provide them with the “proper environment to breed.” The details are designed down to the placement of branches and nest-boxes, and a mister is integrated into the artificial tree to emulate rainfall in the Andes region and encourage the birds to behave as they do in the wild.

The National Aviary seeks to showcase a diverse array of avian species in part because, according to Dr. Pilar Fish, Director of Veterinary Medicine, “When people see such unique birds, they’re inspired to learn more about the environment and conservation.” Dr. Steven Latta, Director of Conservation and Field Research, remarked that in the wild, these birds are both “high elevation species” and thus “particularly susceptible to climate change.” In addition to being fun and fascinating to watch, these birds were chosen in part for their ability to incite wonder and care about the environment on a global level.

A majestic Golden Eagle named Autumn also made her public debut on the gloved arm of Curator of Behavioral Management and Education, Cathy Schlott, to kick off another new series being featured daily at the National Aviary: Eagle Talks. Autumn, a four-year-old eagle, began life as a wild bird and found herself in the Aviary’s care after suffering a wing injury that prevented her from returning to the wild as an apex predator, or a predator at the top of a food chain. Looking regal and calm yet eager for treats, Autumn had a majestic presence and enormous wingspan, and is sure to be the star of educational events to come. The Eagle Talks will give the public the chance to meet Autumn, who will appear on rotation with the Bald Eagles, Flinn and Rockland, at 11:30 a.m. each day.

Both the Eagle Talks and the Andean Mountain Habitat Talks are included with general admission to the National Aviary, located at 700 Arch Street in the Northside. The Aviary is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Visitors of all ages are sure to enjoy and learn something new with each visit. Admission costs $17 for adults, $16 for seniors over 60 and children from ages three to 12 and is free for those two and under.

Northside Chronicle Donation