Aviary (1)

On Saturday, after picking up Eva at the airport, we spent several hours at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. My niece’s name has the Spanish pronunciation rather than the English, so it made a certain kind of poetic sense to take Eva to the Aviary. This is the first of two posts.

some kind of tanager (?)

Aviary sounds more like a book than a place — think of bestiary, or breviary. We step into the pages of an illuminated manuscript where implausible birds flit through the impossible foliage.

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Inca terns

Many of the inhabitants seem curious about the large, loud birds who keep parading through their glass-walled forest. Our plumage is infinitely various, and our flocking behavior is bizarre in the extreme. But sometimes, fish appear at the ends of our outstretched wings.

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ocellated turkey

An embarrassment of riches, they say — as odd an expression as flock of sheep. Show me a flying sheep, and I’ll find a rich man embarrassed by his fortune.

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roseate spoonbill

In my dream of conscious poverty, I completely divest myself of forks, and get by with a single, all-purpose spoon. But every day, I would serve a different soup.

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American flamingo

What a statue of the Virgin of Guadeloupe represents to a Mexican immigrant, a pink flamingo represents to a certain kind of suburbanite: not salvation, exactly, but a vision of grace. Look Ma — no hands!

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lawn ornament birds having sex

I watched the flamingoes for a while to see if any would assume the classic pose and stand on one leg. But the kind of balancing act they had in mind required all available appendages.

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spectacled owl on eggs

You can envy birds their ability to fly if you want, but for me, it’s that second pair of eyelids I covet. Oh, the daydreams I would have!

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

12 Comments


  1. Yes, I, too have admired the extra eyelids of birds, cats and lizards. Awesome photos!

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  2. The photo of the pelican (?) is exceptional — those lines!

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  3. You’re on song here. Every paragraph finds its mark.

    I’m particularly pleased at being shown how peculiar “flock of sheep” is. Hadn’t quite thought of it that way before.

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  4. You work well with the poetic image, verbal and visual.

    I find the photographs as much poetry as the poetry that they inspired.

    That you Aviary lacks scientific names for the birds I like. Who can capture such fascinating beauty with naming?

    Favourites are the spoon, the Guadeloupe Virgin, and Leda and the Flamenco.

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  5. Leda and the Flamenco
    Nice turn of phrase!

    Thanks for all the comments. I mean to mention somewhere that folks can find the name of each birds by clicking on the photo, which goes to the Flickr original. (But sorry, no larger sizes. I was originally going to do one long post with thumbnails, but changed my mind.) The only bird I couldn’t get an I.D. on was the first. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know. It’s some kind of tropical tanager, I think. The others are Inca tern; ocelated turkey; roseate spoonbill; American flamingo (2); and spectacled owl.

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  6. Paradise Tanager, unless there’s some closey related species I don’t know about. Those terns are weird-looking things. In a good way.

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  7. Thanks, Harry! (And rdl and Peter.) I’ll add a note to the Flickr page. I was so busy snapping photos, I neglected to write down what I was photographing.

    The terns were dapper, I thought, but in a Charlie Chaplinesque kind of way.

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  8. The expressions we feel are so human, and laugh when animals exhibit them, like the peacock attentively waiting, companionably, were their’s first, after all.

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  9. Oh, these are fabulous. The first is so beautiful, just the markings and color. The second is a great composition. The roseate spoonbill made me think too much of the poor bird being the one in the soup, but he has a lovely beak. And the last – makes me want to go dream.

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