Wings of Asia Aviary

American Bankers Family Aviary - Wings of Asia

By Susana Cortázar

Nestled among a canopy of some of the most beautiful trees in the world is Zoo Miami’s American Bankers Family Aviary - Wings of Asia, an array of buildings and exhibits that will enable visitors to learn all about Asian birds, aquatic life, dinosaurs, fossils, and much more!

Photo by Ron Magill
Guests will also be able to walk through the one-and-one-half acre free-flight aviary - the largest Asian aviary in the western hemisphere – which houses around 85 species and approximately 400 of the most exotic, colorful, and vocal Asian birds.  With lakes and waterfalls throughout, birds flying and walking around your feet, you will feel transported to another land – a land of peace, quiet, meditation, and tranquility hard to find any place else.
Female black-naped fruit dove with chick
As you enter this marvelous collection of Asian treasures you will encounter the field research center on one side where fascinating movies regarding the comparison between birds and dinosaurs run continuously for visitors’ education and enjoyment. 

In the middle of the attraction, kids can play to their heart’s delight inside the Dino Dig, excavate inside the huge round pit and actually find fossils at the bottom!

As you move into the actual aviary building, you will be greeted by informational displays regarding dinosaurs, birds, and other related subjects.  Straight ahead you will see a beautiful180-square-foot aquarium where you will come face-to-face with turtles, Asian fish including rainbow fish, giant gouramis, and more.
White-winged wood duckling
 As you open the doors into this fantasy world, you will literally be greeted by hundreds of birds who will swoop around you, and follow you around as you wind your way around bamboo (the tallest grass in the world), some of the thickest foliage around where nests are built, bridges, a lake, waterfalls, and where our docents are always available to answer any questions you may have.
Shama thrush chicks
Curator of Birds James Dunster, who has been at Zoo Miami a little over four years and came from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh where he was assistant  and then general curator, beams as he talks about the many birds at the aviary.  (He and his staff of bird keepers’ responsibilities include all bird life in Zoo Miami, not just at the aviary.)  They are knowledgeable about every aspect of bird life – habits, diets, diseases, breeding patterns, you name it.  They are a dedicated group and are fortunate enough to also have volunteer docents who, as mentioned before, not only assist the public with information, but also prepare the diets for all the birds every day.
Bird food - Photo by Stephanie Casanova
The Asian birds’ diet consists of insects, worms, fruit mix, and pellets.  Says Jim, “the birds also get what we call ‘rotational’ food once a week – blueberries, strawberries, cooked sweet potato, cooked brown rice, corn, and oranges.  This acts not only as a supplement to their dietary needs but also as enrichment for them – something different they can look forward to.” 
As the hundreds of trees in the aviary are Asian, the birds also eat fruit off some of the trees, which are appropriate for their diet. These trees also act as refuge and provide nesting materials for the birds.
Red-vented bulbul
With so many birds and ducks flying and swimming around, I asked Jim how they keep track of them.  “Every day, twice a day - first thing in the morning and late afternoon – keepers feed the birds and watch them as they come down from trees, nests, perches, and other hiding places to eat.  The keepers have a checklist of every bird, and when a bird is spotted, the keeper checks off the particular bird on the list to note the bird has been seen and accounted for,” he replied.  The checklist “consists of the bird’s species, sex, and color bands which differentiate similar species,” says Jim.  Keepers also use binoculars to check for birds up in the trees.  
Daily checklist - Photo by Stephanie Casanova
As there is such a large number of birds, Jim explains that sometimes keepers don’t see them all every day but, “if after three days a bird has not been seen, keepers will actively start looking for it.  The bird could be sick, and since they tend to be small, they can crash quickly and die.  Birds, as other animals, tend to hide when they are ill to prevent predators from sensing the illness and preying on them, so it is imperative that keepers find the missing birds to ensure they are okay.  If something should be wrong, the bird will be taken to the vet for proper treatment.”  Furthermore, every dead bird, like our other Zoo Miami animal, undergoes a necropsy to determine cause of death and is then cremated.  And what are some of the signs a bird could be ill?  “Puffed feathers, runny nose and eyes, lethargy, and to the keeper’s trained eyes, the bird just ‘looks off’,” says Jim.   
Female and male fairy bluebird
Specific keepers are not assigned to specific species – every keeper is responsible for knowing about all 85 species in the aviary.  Whew!  That’s a lot of knowledge they must have.  Oh, and they are also responsible for the lake and water life in the aviary’s aquarium as well.  Additionally, as only keepers know where nests are laid and hidden, it is more prudent to have the keepers be responsible for maintaining the flora in the aviary.  They don’t want to take any chances that a non-aviary worker might come in and unknowingly chop down a tree where nests are hidden.  I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a lot of work for seven keepers!!
 White-winged wood duck
Nicobar pigeon
SInce there are always so many visitors in the aviary, I asked Jim if anyone had ever “accidentally” walked away with a bird to which he replied he’s not aware of that ever happening.
Metallic starling
Masked lapwing adult with chick
Like children, birds will sometimes posture and fight.  However, great care is taken to ensure that species bred and brought into Zoo Miami “blend” with each other.  Some of our birds have come from San Diego,Bronx,Houston,Jacksonville and North Carolina zoos, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, China, Indonesia, and India!
Crested wood partridge family
Speaking of breeding, the best season is March through September and hundreds of birds hatch at Zoo Miami every year.  As a matter of fact, we have won numerous awards for our breeding program .  Look at the birds that have hatched this spring alone!
• Pied imperial pigeon
• Nicobar pigeon
• Mindanao bleeding heart dove
• Shama thrush
• Red-vented bulbul                              
• White-cheeked bulbul
• Collared finch billed bulbul                    
• White-winged wood duck                           
Collared finch billed bulbul chick and egg

• Black-naped fruit dove   
• Metallic starling
• Orange-bellied fruit dove
• Azure-winged magpie
• Green-winged dove
• Masked lapwing
• Crested wood partridge

Species that don’t do well once they hatch are taken to the brooder to be hand-raised. 
Masked lapwing chick
But don’t think our birds only fly or walk around.  Make sure you look up in the trees as well and you will see numerous storks and other birds sitting on branches or in their nests peering down at you.
Black-naped fruit dove

On a side note, as you stroll the aviary, if you happen to notice netted tents with birds in them, no, they’re not camping out or on vacation.  As Jim explained, “these are enclosures used to keep parents and chicks together so the young can be raised without external threats.”

There are so many more birds than we could include pictures!  So, don’t miss this paradise on earth next time you visit Zoo Miami.
 Photos by Dolora Batchelor unless otherwise indicated