The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) in Washington, D.C., invites visitors to soar into its renovated Bird House. The new exhibit opening will occur on Monday, 13 March, thanks to the support of Boeing. The exhibit explores the world of migratory songbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds native to North, Central, and South American ecosystems. Bilingual panels—in English and Spanish—tell the story of how migratory birds connect communities and contribute to healthy ecosystems across the Americas.
“Now more than ever, raising awareness about the plight of migratory birds is key to their survival,” said Dr. Brandie Smith, John and Adrienne Mars director, NZCBI. “As visitors walk through our spectacular aviaries and see these beautiful birds up close, I want them to appreciate the awe-inspiring journeys these animals make every year and walk away with the desire and knowledge to protect birds and their shrinking habitats.”
Upon reopening, more than 170 individual birds representing 56 species will be on view in the new Bird House and another 16 species in the surrounding outdoor exhibits on the bird plateau. When visitors approach the Bird House, they are greeted by the Plateau Gardens, a green space abundant with native trees, bushes, and flowers. The promenade serves as a model for planting bird-friendly gardens, which offer food and shelter for birds, insects, and other local wildlife. The outside habitats on the plateau will feature charismatic favorites such as barred owls, standard bronze turkeys, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, and American flamingos.
The multi-sensory, immersive aviaries mimic natural ecosystems—places of critical importance to the annual life cycles of migratory birds that also boost human well-being. From this exhibit, visitors can learn seven simple actions to live bird friendly to protect native species in their own backyards
Visitors will learn about shorebird migration in the Delaware Bay in the first walk-through aviary. Along with birds like the red knot and ruddy turnstone, the aviary features horseshoe crabs, fish, and invertebrates native to the Delaware Bay. Visitors will cross into the Prairie Pothole region of the northern Great Plains to view species of waterfowl and shorebirds—including ducks and black-necked stilts—while learning the importance of the wetlands. In the tropical Bird-Friendly Coffee Farm, visitors can see the migratory Baltimore oriole, wood thrush, and a resident flock of barred parakeets. As they observe songbirds flitting among the coffee plants, visitors learn how agricultural sites can provide critical habitat for birds and other animals.
In the Bird Observatory room, visitors can see how researchers use satellite tracking to learn where birds go and how the climate, native and introduced predators, and availability of insect prey cause bird populations to grow and decline. These studies teach scientists how human development changes ecosystems over time and affects birds’ ability to survive and thrive in their native habitats. In the Observatory, Migratory Bird Center researchers will demonstrate how they use bird banding to study the wild birds that live around the Zoo, and researchers will also host guided walks at the Bird House.
“To fully appreciate the brand-new Bird House experience, visitors should grab their binoculars, take a moment to observe our birds, and reflect on the wonderous cycle of bird migration,” said Scott Sillett, head of NZCBI’s Migratory Bird Center. “When we spend a relaxing day at the beach or enjoy food and coffee that was grown on a farm, we are benefiting from the same ecosystems on which birds live and depend. I hope visitors come away with an understanding of how our actions can impact wildlife and why the decision to live bird friendly is critical to our own future and wellbeing.”
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is the only scientific institution solely dedicated to studying migratory birds. Its scientists study what drives bird population size and how conservationists can use these insights to stop population declines. They are at the forefront of ornithological research, innovating holistic approaches and testing the latest tracking technologies to answer complex questions about seasonal interactions, land management, and behavior.
“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,” said Sara Hallager, curator of the Bird House. “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. We can’t wait until numbers have dwindled to a few hundred or dozen individuals.”
The public opening of the Bird House marks the completion of a six-year, $69 million project that began when the Bird House closed for renovation in January 2017. The renovated exhibit was built within the walls of the Zoo’s historic 1928 Bird House, and more than 80 percent of the existing masonry walls were retained to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. The exhibit was designed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards. The building’s glass contains a ceramic frit pattern of horizontal lines, making it more visible to birds to prevent window collisions.
Edited by Sarah Gilsoul, a writer and Communications Program Assistant
Back to All Stories