Visit Guide: How to Optimize Your Trip to the National Aviary

Yesterday Nesrine and I went to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, one of her favorite places right now. It is truly an amazing place! We have been there close to a dozen times in the last few months, and it struck me that it was one of the last big attractions that I took her to experience. Since birth she has come along with me regularly to Phipps Conservatory, to all of the wonderful museums Pittsburgh has to offer, to the Zoo, and so on. But somehow we never made it to The Aviary.  I think the reason I was hesitant was that I didn’t know what to expect at The Aviary, and being the planner that I am, I always plan ahead as much as possible (and I’m sure you mamas of young children can relate to that sentiment!).  So, here is how I plan our visit to get the most out of our time. Hopefully it will give you a better idea of what to expect, especially if you haven’t yet taken your toddler for a visit!

Arrive at or before 10AM  for parking.

The lot designated for Aviary guests is small and it fills up quick. There is street parking nearby, but being in the lot is much more convenient. If you aren’t a member they charge you $5 to park.

If you get there 10 minutes before they open, you also have time for a light snack before you go in and start all the fun. We usually have snack around 10am, so this timing is perfect!

You also want to have enough time to explore a little before the 10:30AM Wetlands Feeding (more details on that below).

First Stop–>Sloth, Owls, and Eagles.

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This is the first hallway as you enter. These animals are (for good reason) behind glass, and, for a 19 month old, only exciting if they are literally right at the glass. We got lucky! We only spend maybe 5-10 minutes looking at these birds.

Second–> Head to the Grasslands Room JPEG image-2FCF9D688C71-1.jpeg

This room is to the left of the Sloth, and is absolutely mesmerizing. The sound of the finches and doves and sparrows, as well as a host of other small birds, soothes my soul every time we go. This is an immersive exhibit—meaning the birds are free flying around the room. Nesrine goes on and on about how they fly right over our heads (and almost landed on my head!) and loves how they eat watermelon or oranges and splash in the water. You experience it so much differently than if the birds were in caged exhibits, and it never gets old.

We go to this room also because it leads into the Wetlands, and so when its almost time for the 10:30 feeding we are able to just walk over one room and we are there! We spend about 15-20 minutes in the Grasslands.

Next–>10:30AM Wetlands Bird Feeding IMG_5412.JPG

This is really the highlight of every visit. They offer a variety of feedings and encounters (many of which you have to pay extra for), but this feeding held daily at both 10:30am and 2pm is included with your entrance fee (bonus!). See their daily schedule here. I suggest going the 10:30 feeding, because this is the first feeding of the day and the birds are more interactive.  There are also flamingos and ducks hanging out in the water, which is a big deal if you have a duck-obsessed little one like I do.

The feeding is led by an employee of the Aviary who educates participants on the different birds and where they live and what/how they eat in the wild. Obviously for N, this part goes over her head, but it is interesting for older kids and adults as well.

The fun part is how the birds swoop down and land on the railings to get the worms and fish. They walk along the floor and all make a lot of noise in general. They also allow volunteers to hold up a worm or fish to feed the birds. Nesrine and I have done this and she is always so excited about how the bird will land on my hand to get the worm (“birdie yum yum yum” she says all day afterwards, holding her hand out flat like I did). You can pay $1 to feed the pelicans after the feeding, but usually N is ready to move on to the next thing. The whole feeding takes about 15 minutes.  Plus if your lucky, a bird might even land on your stroller! 😉

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After the feeding–>Penguin PointIMG_5413.JPG

The Wetlands connects (on the other side from where you come in) to Penguin Point. There is a fun tunnel that you can go in to see under the water, and a dome bubble to see penguins closer up in the exhibit. It is a nice exhibit, but we don’t spend much time there usually as Nesrine is not that interested in them.

They sometimes have some type of activity happening in that area. One time when we were there they had an owl out and it was very neat to see one up close!  If you look closely, you can see that the owl had screeched at Nesrine when we came over (and she couldn’t have been more pleased that it said “Hi” to us).

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Final Stop–>Tropical Forest

Located across the cafe is the Tropical Forest. There are two Great Argus Pheasants as well as an array of other tropical birds. There is usually one pheasant that is walking around on the floor and you can see up close. Did you know they have the longest tail-feathers of any bird? If you are lucky, you might even see the male present his feathers (this is, according to one of the aviary docents, something he does not do frequently and many of the docents haven’t actually seen it). IMG_5419.JPG

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We look around in here for a bit, and by then it is usually time to go home for lunch/nap. We sometimes go in to the Canary room, but it is usually brief.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

  • Their cafe is nothing special. Pack food or lunch at home.
  • It is not a big facility, but don’t try to go to every room or every exhibit. There are some areas we have still not explored, the outside ones especially (since winter doesn’t seem to end here!).
  • Don’t bother bringing a stroller if you have a walker. I brought ours once and it was mostly just to hold all of our stuff as N didn’t want to sit at all. Again, it isn’t a huge space and she can handle the walk (plus it tires her out for a good nap!) Pack light and don’t worry about trying to push a stroller around while your toddler is running ahead of you! **They do have a coat rack you can hang your coat.

There you have it! Leave me your comment if you’ve been to the Aviary, and what your experience was like!  If you haven’t been yet, go plan your visit asap 🙂

xoxo, D

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