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National Aviary

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Rib fest: David Miller delivers to the Andean condors.
  • Rib fest: David Miller delivers to the Andean condors.

David Miller wheels his cart full of wax worms, crickets and other bird delights into the Wetlands room at the National Aviary, on the North Side. Across a shallow pond, six flamingos face the small crowd. A gray-winged trumpeter -- looking like a folded Russian winter hat on spindles -- alights on the cart, and a few other birds gather on a nearby tree. Miller warns visitors to stand back a bit. At the National Aviary, some of the rarest exhibits come directly to you. And, sometimes, they poop on you.

Working as part of the Animal Program staff, Miller took a year to find the right sound to make the flamingos dance. He leads the crowd in a clapping pattern, and the ungainly pink avians begin to slap the water, show off a leg or wing, and bow.

"If we keep clapping, they'll just dance all day and they'll have no time to eat," Miller says.

It's an unusual sight outside of the wild. But mostly, just spotting some of the more unusual creatures among the park's 600 birds is the biggest challenge.

In the Tropical Forest room, some of the endangered species still seem to be running from us. The brown, quail-like Guam rails -- once eaten nearly into extinction by brown snakes introduced by the U.S. military -- dash behind vegetation. The Bali mynahs, such a status symbol in their native land that they are "pretty much extinct in the wild," Miller says, flash past.

Other rare delights are hard to miss, like the 300-pound hammerkop nest in the crook of a very strong tree; Gus the Great Argus Pheasant, with his tail feather destined to be 7 to 9 feet long come spring; and the green wood hoopoes, "One of the only birds that smell," Miller notes. That's an issue only for predators, happily.

Perhaps the least-noted exhibit hides in plain sight outside the Aviary: the pen of giant Andean condors, missed by this visitor on multiple trips here. This morning, Miller says, he gave them a fresh deer rib cage. The birds don't seem in a hurry to strip it. In fact, they don't seem in a hurry to do anything. Looking out, they seem to say, "Take your time -- we'll be looking at the likes of you eventually."

National Aviary Allegheny Commons West, North Side. $8 ($7 seniors; $6.50 children 2-12). 412-323-7235 or www.aviary.org

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