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The National Aviary

A couple of weeks back while walking thru the park off North Ave next to the National Aviary, taking some of the photos that appear on this website, I was involved in a close encounter with a UFO.

This UFO wasn’t your basic kite, frisbee, or radio controlled flying saucer complete with poseable Martian action figure.

No this was an Unidentified Feathered Object, which dove, spun and looped in a flash of scarlet, and was then joined by a companion winging in from the opposite direction.

Such was my first Close Encounter with Skittles and Starburst, a pair of scarlet macaws who usually reside inside the confines of the Aviary. Had someone left a cage door open, I wondered, allowing them to literally “fly the coop?” I was intrigued.

Upon further investigation, I learned they were part of FliteZone, a free-flight program at the Aviary designed to allow these trained birds to interact more freely with visitors.

The FliteZone opens for it’s first fly-bys Memorial Day 2010, and will continue thru Labor Day with two different shows each day Wednesdays-Sundays, weather permitting.

The first show at 11am will be a raptor show featuring eagles, black kites, an auger buzzard, vultures and more. Several species including a bald eagle (Indy) and a Harris Hawk (Franco) will make their debut flights. Sahara, a southern ground hornbill, will also make her first public appearance. Each bird will demonstrate the physical and behavioral attributes unique to birds of prey.

The second show, at 2:30pm will feature species in the parrot family as well as a few surprise appearances by other Aviary residents. Flocks of scarlet, green-winged, and hyacinth macaws, blue fronted Amazon parrots, a trumpeter hornbill and an American crow will demonstrate the behaviors that enable them to survive in their native habitats. Also, this show will highlight the amazing adaptations for which parrots are noted including intelligence, problem solving ability, and mimicry.

Erin Estell, Assistant Director of animal training, explained the show collection will be comprised of roughly 60 birds Six show trainers work with these birds and help audiences learn about the conservation challenges facing these birds in the wild.

She introduced me to Rick and Tyler named for Rick Springfield and Stephen Tyler and also to Linus and Lucy of Peanuts fame.

Interesting facts that Erin related included that Macaws and Parrots can live 60 years, often outliving their human friends, and that they tend to pair up, but not always in male/female pairings -- except for mating.

They enjoy a variety of food including fruit, mangos, nuts, seeds, grapes, apples, papayas, peppers, and hot peppers, enjoying SHU’s that would make a grizzly bear cringe.

Stop by and visit these feathered ambassadors from the jungles and plains. Bring the kids they'll have a great time!

Inside the Aviary are over 200 species from all over the world including flamingos, a new grasslands exhibit and an indoor bird theatre opening in October.

As I was bidding farewell to Skittles and Starburst, I was told not much slows these guys down. Hawks and falcons don’t bother these big boys, but they are not big on blimps, so the aviary requests that the stadiums call if one is planning to float on a game day! They’ll keep the parrots inside.