We’ve been waiting six years for the re-opening of the Bird House at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, and it has been worth the wait. The historic 1928 building has been remodeled to LEED gold standards, and the emphasis has switched from displaying the exotic to showcasing migratory birds of the Americas. With the bird population of the U.S. declining by almost 30% in the last 50 years, the Zoo’s efforts to be part of the conservation of migratory birds is critical for both birds and humans, as we rely on birds for growing crops – including pest control, pollination, and spreading seeds.
The inside of the building has three large aviaries, representing different points along the migratory ecosystem.
Delaware Bay Aviary
The Delaware Bay exhibit contains both freshwater and saltwater ponds, with twelve bird species along with horseshoe crabs and native fish. The Delaware Bay area is an essential spot for birds to refuel during their migrations.
The prairie pothole areas of the upper Midwest fill seasonally with water from rains and melting snow. These wetlands are especially good for ducks, offering both food and grasslands in which to safely hide nests. It’s a threatened ecosystem although conservation efforts are helping.
The songbird aviary is designed to resemble a coffee farm, where North American birds migrate for winter. The exhibit shows us the importance of these areas for songbirds, and how selecting the right kinds of coffee can impact the future populations of these migratory songbirds.
The songbirds get plenty of food – during the breeding season, they get 830,000 crickets, 680,000 mealworms, and other treats.
If you don’t see the parakeets at the food stations, look up high in the windows near the roof:
The outside enclosures contain some traditional favorites – turkeys, cranes, owls, and other species.
Check out the Zoo’s site for information about when events are scheduled. You may see some outdoor wonders like this silvery-cheeked hornbill flying:
Banding birds is an important part of finding out which populations of birds may be declining before it is too late to save the species. The zoo’s bird experts are in the process of banding the birds that fly into the zoo, like this cardinal.
These photos were taken at preview events. The Bird House opens to the public on March 13th. It will require free same-day timed tickets that can be obtained at the Zoo.
Rather than wait and see what fate holds for migratory birds, our team is proactively studying their husbandry, nutritional and reproductive needs while they’re still common. Already, our team has had great success breeding several migratory species that breed in the United States, including indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Swainson’s thrush and wood thrush. As populations decline drastically in the wild, the possibility of bringing them into human care to save their species becomes more real.Sara Hallager, curator of the Bird House