The National Aviary, located in the Allegheny Commons Park in Pittsburgh’s North Side, offers an unique way to learn about the lives of birds. With more than 500 birds representing over 150 species, the aviary invites visitors to step into open spaces where the birds are as free their guests. The variety of habitats and sheer number of birds made this one of the highlights during our recent family trip to Pittsburgh.
Originally built in 1952 as part of a conservatory, the aviary has undergone several expansions and became a publicly owned organization in 1991 when the city could no longer provide funding. The community stepped in to save this gem and in 1993 it was awarded the honorary title of National Aviary by President Clinton. It has certainly lived up to its name and continues to expand. During our visit, the Tropical Rainforest section was receiving all new glass, which will provide better lighting and more efficient insulation for the birds’ environment.
The Aviary has two main goals. The first is to educate the public about wild birds. How they live in the wild, and amazing variety across the world, and their habitats. There are several different habitats represented at the Aviary, ranging from Antarctic to tropical, along with informational displays, talks, and theater shows to provide a deeper understanding of bird life and challenges.
The second goal is to help endangered birds with a successful breeding program. In fact, the Guam Kingfishers we saw at the Aviary are currently extinct in the wild. The big news while we were there was that several African penguin chicks were getting ready for introduction into their Aviary habitat and the huge Andean condor pair laid an egg. It will be exciting to return again and see how they are progressing.
Exploring the National Aviary
Birds have always fascinated me with their myriad of types, colors, and far off migrations. The closest connection to the era of dinosaurs, birds are the only animal living on all seven continents. For these reasons, birds have always fascinated me and a visit to the National Aviary was at the top of my Pittsburgh travel list. The building is comprised of several rooms; some as large as the aviaries you’d find at a zoo. Each one presenting a different habitat and varieties of species.
The first room we walked into, the Grasslands, was filled with small songbirds such as you would find in your own backyard. The birds are used to visitors and freely flit around you and the small trees in the room. We watched one bird as he tried to figure out how to get his newly found cluster of straw grass through the tree branches and into his nest. Even our anxiety-driven daughter was calm and stood in awe watching her little feathered friends.
Still amazed from mingling with the songbirds, we ventured into the next section. The Wetlands room was even more impressive. This large conservatory style space was filled with larger birds, such as flamingos and pelicans, wandering among trees and a a pond. Other birds darted through the foliage and flew close to visitors as they passed through the area. Various bird calls echoed through the space. If you ignored the doors at either end you would fully believe you were strolling through a subtropical forest and not a cool, foggy morning in downtown Pittsburgh. My only regret was not bring a camera to better capture images of the beautiful birds perching on the railings and trees.
More Bird Habitats of the National Aviary
The Canary’s Call – Features various bird habitats alongside informational displays about how the lives of birds are directly connected to the health of our environments. The huge Malaysian fruit bats can also be found in this space.
Condor Court – Visitors can view the two pairs of rare Andean condors in their glass enclosure. One of the condors recently laid an egg, furthering the National Aviary’s mission to help breed endangered species.
Tropical Rainforest – Similar in scope to the Wetlands room, this popular display at the Aviary was undergoing renovations while we were there. The 1950s era conservatory is getting all new glass along with electrical and water systems to make it more efficient and enjoyable for both birds and guests.
Eagle Hall – This area houses bald eagles, owls, and a pair of Steller’s sea-eagles. Native to the western Pacific, the sea-eagles were an impressive sight. Sitting tall and regal with an exaggeratedly hooked beak, they looked ready to fly off and hunt down the next meal. I found myself sad that these particular birds were not free to roam the wild.
Penguin Point – By far our daughter’s favorite habitat of the day. The penguin viewing area is unique in that you can relax on a bench to watch through the floor-to-ceiling glass or head outside to get a different angle from above. The display also features tunnels with plexiglass prairie dog style pop ups so kids can get within inches of the birds. In addition to the roughly 20 birds in the habitats, several African penguins had hatched and were getting ready to join the others soon.
Get Even Closer to the Birds
In addition to a schedule of daily feedings, guests can sign up for more personal encounters at the National Aviary. For a fee, visitors will take part in anything from hand feeding to getting up close and personal with birds of prey. Prices range from $40 to $100 for most programs. VIP encounters, such as taking a stroll in the flamingo habitat or going behind the scenes for a day run higher.
FliteZone – In this multimedia show visitors will learn more about the birds and daily life at the Aviary. Presenters feature some of the popular resident birds and let them fly around the theater. The sloths and armadillos may also make an appearance. Shows are typically scheduled twice daily six days a week, with Tuesday being the current rest day for the birds.
Planning Your Aviary Visit
The National Aviary is open daily 10AM to 5PM, though it may close for special events. Tickets cost $15 for adult and $14 for kids ages 2-12 and seniors.
The Aviary is a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which may entitle you to discounts if you are an annual pass holder/member at another facility. Check here for the current list of members and reciprocal discounts.
A small cafe is located in the center of the Aviary. Here you’ll find prepackaged sandwiches, salads, drinks, and snacks. The open seating area is perfect for lunch or a midday snack. The gift shop was full of interesting items ranging from the usual t-shirts and trinkets to stuffed animals and paintings created by birds. It’s a bit cramped, but well-stocked.
Aviary Visitor Tips
- Wear comfortable shoes and be aware that some habitats may have a bit of water on the floor.
- Avoid bulky items, like large purses and coats, since some areas may be a bit confined and may try to get inside.
- You may be inclined to wear a hat. Well, birds flying around.
- Definitely bring a camera if you’re a bird lover.
- Parking is available behind the Aviary. Look for the ticket machine to pay fees.
- Talk to younger kids before your visit about being in the room with birds to make sure they won’t be scared and also so they know not to try to play with their feathered friends.
For more information about the many fun destinations n Pittsburgh, read my 20 Places to Visit Pittsburgh article.