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North Hills Monthly

National Aviary’s Tropical Rainforest Reopens after $1.2 Million Renovation

Jul 31, 2018 10:35PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Immersive habitat features bird-friendly glass, 15-foot waterfall, new bird and plant species and Wookiee the sloth

On July 13, the National Aviary celebrated the completion of $1.2 million in renovations to its historic Tropical Rainforest with a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by National Aviary Executive Director Cheryl Tracy; Dan Griffin, chair of the board of directors of The Allegheny Regional Asset District; Catalina Lehmann, program director, Colcom Foundation; and Richard A. Beuke, president, Vitro Architectural Glass. 

The lush habitat, now officially reopened to the public, features an expansive new dome made of 19,600 square feet of unique, bird-friendly glass; a 15-foot tiered waterfall that encompasses immersive spaces for birds to bathe and play; new tropical plants and trees, including cacao and coffee as tools for conservation education; custom perches; new lighting and flooring; and other energy-efficient enhancements. 

“With this renovation to the National Aviary’s oldest room, we have constructed a beautiful habitat that mimics the environment that tropical bird and mammal species would inhabit in the wild,” says National Aviary Executive Director Cheryl Tracy. “The trees and plants have been carefully selected to represent the diversity of the rainforest ecosystem, and to create a healthy environment that encourages nesting and other natural behaviors.”

Visitors will immediately notice the abundance of light that now permeates through the new glass roof;  19,600 square feet (3, 146 original glass panes) were replaced with laminated Starphire Ultra-Clear® glass by Vitro Architectural Glass, featuring a bird-friendly, AviProtek® Velour acid-etched finish by Walker Glass.  The new glass is designed to prevent collision by birds both inside and outside the habitat, and prevent birds of prey flying outside from seeing and attempting to reach potential prey living inside the building. The glass also maximizes ultraviolet (UV) and natural light transmittance to help sustain wildlife and plant life throughout the year.   

Custom perches near walkways will enable closer views of many signature birds, and the waterfall attracts birds to splash and swim.  

“These features of the redesigned space will engage and delight visitors of all ages, and along with docents and interactive signage, will encourage greater understanding of rainforest habitats, our dependence on them, and the actions we all can take to help protect them,” says Tracy.

New bird species are being gradually added to the space, with each being given plenty of time to acclimate. Species favorites that made their home in the Tropical Rainforest prior to renovation have returned, including a critically endangered Palm Cockatoo, a male and female Great Argus Pheasant, flocks of Victoria Crowned Pigeons and Southern Bald Ibis, extinct-in-the wild Guam Rails, and a pair of Laughing Thrushes.

Among the colorful new inhabitants is a female Hyacinth Macaw, who will be a companion to Benito, a Hyacinth Macaw that has been at the National Aviary since 1993. Bufflehead Ducks can be seen splashing in the pond at the bottom of the waterfall, while lively Superb Starlings, recognizable by their striking metallic green and blue feathers, are already at home in their new habitat. A Military Macaw named Mac will also inhabit the Tropical Rainforest.

A familiar National Aviary visitor favorite, Wookiee, an adult Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth, is trying out the Tropical Rainforest as his new home. As he becomes familiar with this habitat, visitors looking up into the canopy may be able to see him sleeping, eating, and even moving through the tree branches overhead.

The Tropical Rainforest renovation was funded by Colcom Foundation and The Allegheny Regional Asset District. Its summer completion coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Aviary’s official national designation and renaming as the National Aviary.