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Identity & Community

"National" Aviary Marks 20 Years, Unveils New Exhibit

To kick off its 20th anniversary celebration as the National Aviary on Pittsburgh’s North Side, the facility is opening a new permanent exhibit Friday entitled “Canary’s Call.”

The display showcases four signature bird species including the rainbow lorikeet, Guam rail, rhinoceros hornbill and the canary, as well as one of the world’s largest fruit bats, the 2.5 pound Malayan flying fox.

According to Patricia O’Neill, director of education at the National Aviary, “Canary’s Call” shows how birds can be indicators of environmental change.

“Birds by their presence or absence within an environment can tell us whether there are positive changes happening or negative changes,” she said. “We’ve actually seen an example of positive changes in our environment with the return of the bald eagles here to Pittsburgh.”

The exhibit takes its name from the use of canaries in coal mines, where the death of the birds would warn the miners of potentially fatal poisonous air.

O’Neill said the exhibit plays off of this story by showing humanity’s influence on overpopulation, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and over consumption.

“We’re linking our wonderful collection of birds to environmental issues and we’re hoping that people are going to be inspired by the birds and their stories in order to have a positive impact,” she said.

The exhibit also features two touchscreen kiosks to educate the public through a series of games.

Tours are available daily.

Although it was designated as the "National Aviary" 20 years ago,  the facility houses more than 500 birds of 200 species and is the largest aviary in the country.

While they have continued to grow and expand since 1993, O’Neill said the spirit of the aviary hasn’t at all.

“The mission is still rooted in conservation and environmental education,” she said. “And our mission is and will remain to inspire people to respect nature through an appreciation of birds.”

As for the future, O’Neill said the aviary hopes to further develop its education programs.

“We really want people to feel empowered,” she said, “and to know that there’s still hope for change in the environment and what we do.”