"In 1993, Congress gave the aviary the national designation it now adds to its title," Douglas said.
The aviary houses more than 600 birds, representing 250 species from all over the globe. Everyone may have their favorite, but those that made the biggest visual impact on me were a pair of sea eagles, one of which perched on a limb close to the wall of its glass enclosure.
"The sea eagles are found in Siberia and Alaska and can weigh 10 to 15 pounds with a wing span approaching nine feet," Douglas said.
I followed guide Janet Robb into the grasslands exhibit and was impressed by her knowledge of all things avian. She pointed out the gorgeous golden finches and explained that the Eastern Paradise Whydah is a parasitic nester that lays eggs in other birds nests and lets the adoptive parents raise them.
I was amused to learn from her that the African gray parrot can mimic not only the human language but also cell phone tones and radio static.
After watching the penguins gorge themselves on fish, I watched wetlands coordinator Dave Miller conduct one of the day’s most entertaining events. Miller passed out grubs to visitors in bleacher seats and asked his audience to hold the worms between their fingers and raise their arms. It wasn’t log before birds swooped down and plucked the tasty (to them) morsels.
We duplicated the exercise with fish, and that time it was the Inca terns that stole our catches.
I ended the day in the expansive enclsosed rainforest, where the feeding began with hard Brazil nuts given to green-winged and hyacinth macaws, while 90 other birds representing 30 species, mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa, flew freely overhead.
One word of caution: Keep a wary eye out for Charley, a common grackle housed in the wetland enclosure. He’s known for his penchant for going through bags and purses of unsuspecting visitors and stealing things like car keys.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service, Contact him at email@example.com.