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PITTSBURGH–During the winter season, it’s difficult to identify several our year-round resident bird species in our backyards.   The cold weather and lack of food influences color for several.  Many also tend to have muted colors and patterns because it’s not mating season.
But you can still see pops of color in the bird population during a western Pennsylvania winter.  There’s a place in Pittsburgh that’s home to birds from around the world. It’s The National Aviary and it supports free-light exhibits showcasing birds from every continent except Antarctica.

Providing birds with the healthcare, food and habitat to live in, the Aviary can ensure that birds from around the world can live a happy and healthy life. With an onsite veterinary, the Aviary team can provide these birds with the medicine and treatments they need to survive.

Although a good majority of the birds on exhibit are there for education and entertainment; others are there as part of a conservation program. SSPs, Species Survival Programs, are designed to directly maintain and increase the number of endangered species. For example, the Andean Condor has its own outdoor facility called “Condor Court.”  Including the Condor, over 60 of the species there are part of the SSP.

Two of the most fascinating birds I encountered at the Aviary were the Scarlet-headed Blackbird and the Wattled Curassow.

Wattled Curassow

Slowly walking and hopping around, the Wattled Curassow (Crax globulosa) was friendly to newcomers.   However,  seemed to peck at multiple employees.  This bird is around 35 inches long and weighs around 85 ounces. Its diet consists of small fish and any insects it can scavenge for. Although it is labeled as endangered on the IUCN Redlist, there is still a wild population in Brazil and South America.

Hunting and habitat destruction has threatened the species.  This bird is known to live in the wetlands, for example near river beds and streams. With around 10,000 Wattled Curassows left, finding a mate is not an easy task. Their call to find a mate is comparable to a high-pitched, firecracker sound that is certainly recognizable. When they find one though, Curassows are known to stick with a mate for a long time, or even their whole life if they’re lucky. Males and females have similar appearances at birth. Their plumage consists of a glossy black finish and a curled “crown” of feathers on top of their head. Over time, males develop an orange and black bill while females develop a dark red bill.

Scarlet-headed Blackbird

An elegant, yet basic bird caught the eye of multiple birders while at the Aviary. The Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Amblyramphus holosericeus), a small, sparrow sized bird was constantly flying or hopping around the wetland habitat in search of insects, it’s primary source of food. Its bill is specifically designed to puncture plants in search of insects, this method is known as Gaping. This bird is found near wetlands where this habitat attracts copious amounts of insects. It’s typical wetland habitat is near Brazil and parts of Uruguay. Although it is shown on the IUCN Redlist, it is considered “Least Concerned” and stable in the wild. The orange head on both sexes of this species seems to attract attention in the wild. Theodore Roosevelt even commented on this bird’s’ orange head during his travels through Brazil, saying that it seems to “glow”.

Similarities & Differences

Even though these birds are vastly different in size and shape, they still hold a handful of similarities. These two species both live in wetlands of Brazil and other parts of South America. The differences between the two are much more obvious. The Curassow is much larger in size and eats small fish as part of its diet, while the Blackbird only eats insects. The Curassow also will remain with one or two mates in their entire lives, meanwhile the Blackbird will have as many as it can during its lifetime during the breeding season. While the Blackbird flies around and perches itself on high trees and bushes; the Curassow slowly walks, and hops around with small amounts of flying. Some orange color can be spotted on the male Curassows bill, but much more prevalent and obvious on the Blackbird. For some reason, the orange color truly grabbed many others attention while at the Aviary.

Ecosystem

With the many differences these two birds face, the chance that they could be neighbors in the wild is significantly high. They eat similar foods, live in the same habitat and live in the same areas of the world. The Aviary offers exactly what the wetlands of Brazil has, a small body of water, surrounded by trees and bushes with an abundant amount of food for everyone to get some.

The National Aviary is just what the Tweetspeak team needed. An area where we all can explore the wonderful colors, behaviors and variety of the world’s birds in one place. The Aviary is suitable for all ages, making it an exceptional place to bring family and friends that no one will forget.

 

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