The National Aviary Remains Crowded (with Birds)
The North Side zoo has staff hard at work caring for their flock — and providing educational materials for families schooling at home.
At the National Aviary, animal caregivers start their day by gathering food, putting out meals for birds with specific diets and cleaning and disinfecting cages and other work areas. Throughout the day they will give baths, turn on music, continue lessons for birds still in training and provide other engaging activities for their birds and animals. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, not much has changed — for the Aviary’s winged residents, at least. The National Aviary planned ahead, ordering a surplus of food and medical supplies before restrictions were in place.
The National Aviary — the only independent, indoor, nonprofit zoo in the United States dedicated to birds — has committed to maintaining its regular level of care for the animals while practicing social distancing. “Just because the human world has slowed down from COVID-19 doesn’t mean the animal world has slowed,” says Molly Toth, communications specialist at the National Aviary.
To promote social distancing, only the aviary’s essential workers — such as animal caregivers — are permitted to physically come to the building. This way, even though guests are no longer permitted, animal caregivers can stick close to their usual routine, allowing their flock of over 500 birds and 150 other animals to remain happy and healthy.
Nevertheless, for the normally close-knit staff, the transition has been tough. “We’re used to all being together and doing activities together,” says Cathy Schlott, Curator of Behavioral Management and Animal Programs. “I miss my coworkers!”
While guests cannot visit the Aviary, virtual access to its birds is available. Aviary staff have been hard at work producing daily content including educational videos, virtual tours, and guessing games; these programs are geared toward school-age children who are currently homeschooling. Previously, children only had access to the aviary’s educational programs by visiting on school field trips or other events; now, under extraordinary circumstances, the aviary has been able to experiment with virtual learning, allowing a much wider audience across the country the opportunity to connect with the birds of the North Side. “We will continue putting content up as long as there is a need for it,” says Toth. Virtual learning content can be found on the aviary’s social media or at Education Corner on their website.
“This is a time for the Pittsburgh community to band together and support cultural institutions,” Toth adds. While the current reality may be unprecedented, Aviary staff cannot compromise on their care of their animals, she says. “Nature goes on.”