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Visitors: Please note that the Giant Panda House is closed until further notice while cub Bei Bei recovers from surgery. Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bao Bao are still visible in their outdoor yards. 

Bird House Exhibit

Hours
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • peacock with feathers spread
  • entrance to the exhibit
  • inside view of the open atrium
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Bird House

Birds are an integral part of virtually every ecosystem, so it's not surprising that birds are all over the Zoo, both as residents and as visitors. A diverse range of birds call the Bird House home, including kori bustards (the world’s heaviest flying birds), whooping cranes, American flamingos, blue-billed curassows, Baltimore orioles, sunbitterns, Socorro doves, and many more. 

Every spring and summer the National Zoo's Bird House hosts some very special migratory guests—about 100 pairs of black-crowned night-herons. For the past century, the birds arrive at the Bird House—their only rookery in Washington D.C.—every March and depart between August and September. See a video of the black-crowned night heron feeding.

The movement of billions of birds crisscrossing the globe prompts the question: how is it possible that they complete such marathon migrations? By 2020, the Smithsonian National Zoo’s historic 1928 Bird House will transform into Experience Migration, a first-of-its-kind attraction that immerses visitors in the annual journeys of western hemisphere birds. Visitors will be able to step into naturalistic exhibits representing habitats of critical importance in the annual life cycles of migratory birds, including the Delaware Bay Aviary, Prairie Pothole Aviary, and a Bird Friendly Coffee Farm Aviary. At the Tracking Station, visitors will have the opportunity to help Zoo researchers who catch wild birds flying through the Zoo, measure and tag them, and track them afterward to better understand their migration patterns. Learn about world-renowned pioneering research led by scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Please Note: The outdoor flight aviary by the Bird House is now closed as part of ongoing renovations to the Bird House exhibit.

Keepers provide the birds with enrichment—enclosures, socialization, objects, sounds, smells and other stimuli—to enhance their well-being and give them an outlet to demonstrate their species-typical behaviors. An exhibit’s design is carefully and deliberately planned to ensure the comfort, safety and health of the animals. Each enrichment is tailored to give an animal the opportunity to use its natural behaviors in novel and exciting ways. As with any enrichment activity, an animal can either choose to participate or not.

Enrichment means not only paying attention to how an exhibit suits a particular species, but how it caters to an individual animal as well. When a parrot was reluctant to fly, keepers put enrichment treats in areas where the perches weren’t connected, encouraging him to fly to reach the desired treat.

In addition to environmental enrichment, many animals participate in training sessions. This social enrichment provides an animal with exercise and mental stimulation while reinforcing the relationship between an animal and his/her keeper. Watch keepers train a Baltimore oriole to do husbandry behaviors that help animal care staff care for him, such as landing on a branch, showing his body parts, and entering a crate on cue.

Many of the Zoo's animals paint for enrichment, which stimulates their visual, tactile, and olfactory senses. Using non-toxic, water-based paint, birds create one-of-a-kind works of art. Before keepers tried to paint with a green-winged macaw named Mac, they first acclimated him to having the canvas nearby. During the next training session, the keepers tried a few different brushes, but Mac didn’t care for holding them in his beak. So they put peanut butter (a treat) inside a paper towel roll. Then they attached leaves that had been dipped in paint. Mac took this innovative “brush” and liked the new sensation so much that he refused to relinquish the brush when it was time to add more paint to the leaves!

Restrooms are located at Panda Plaza.

Asia Trail is located adjacent to the Bird House. Visitors can observe giant pandas, red pandas, Asian small-clawed otters, fishing cats, clouded leopards, and sloth bears at this location. Each day around 1:15 p.m. keepers toss novel foods and enrichment items to the sloth bears (weather dependent).

Elephant Trails is located downhill from the Bird House. Visitors can observe the Zoo’s Asian elephants at this location and can watch training demonstrations that highlight the animals’ natural behaviors (11 a.m. daily, weather dependent).

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 a.m., visitors can meet a kiwi and learn about these endangered, flightless birds. Meet a female Stanley crane named Alice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m., visitors can meet a Baltimore oriole. On Saturdays, chat with keepers about bird conservation and meet a pileated woodpecker. Hear fun facts about these birds and learn how keepers train and care for them. To view a full list of demonstrations, check out the Daily Events calendar.

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Founded in 1991, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) focuses on the ecology, evolution and conservation of migratory birds. The SMBC studies annual migratory movements, collects long-term data on migratory birds from North to South America, works with bird-friendly coffee farmers in Nicaragua, and bridges classrooms across the Americas. The SMBC is dedicated to understanding, conserving and championing the grand phenomenon of bird migration.

Stanley Crane Hormone Monitoring

Two-year-old Stanley crane Alice seems to enjoy participating in daily demonstrations with keepers and Zoo visitors. But how does she really feel about these interactions? To get inside Alice's head, Bird House curator Sara Hallager and keeper Debi Talbott teamed up with Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute endocrinologist Janine Brown to study her hormones. Learn how they solved the mystery in this science Q & A.

Black-Crowned Night Heron Migration

Every spring and summer the National Zoo's Bird House hosts some very special migratory guests—about 100 pairs of black-crowned night-herons. For the past century, the birds arrive at the Bird House—their only rookery in Washington D.C. For the past century, the birds arrive in March or April each year and depart between August and September, but scientists did not know where their southern destinations were or what challenges they faced to reach them. In 2013, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists attached tracking devices to four birds, gaining the first glimpse into the birds' migration south. A couple of birds made it to Florida before the transmitter batteries died. In July 2014, scientists outfitted six birds with more advanced tracking devices, thanks to support from the Smithsonian Women's Committee. The light-weight, solar-powered trackers use cell phone technology to transmit location data every two hours. This more precise system allowed scientists to track the birds in near real-time and gather clues about what challenges they face on their marathon journeys.

Kori Bustard

The kori bustard is a large terrestrial bird native to southern and eastern Africa. Kori bustards are the largest species of the bustard family and the heaviest flying bird. The Zoo’s research with kori bustards focuses on behavior and reproduction with the goal of advancing the understanding of kori bustard biology and making recommendations to improve its survival, both in the wild and in human care. Since 1970, kori bustard ranges have shrunk more than 20 percent in East Africa and close to 10 percent in southern Africa. Zoo scientists are studying the behavior and reproduction of adults, sub-adults and chicks; specifically, they are examining breeding displays, hormone patterns and copulation. Zoo scientists seek to understand kori bustard actions and responses during certain times of the day and seasons, and how their activities vary between the sexes. They also study how the birds interact with and react to Zoo visitors.

Loggerhead Shrike

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute houses loggerhead shrikes. This species was once common across North America. Their populations have fallen sharply (down 70 percent), and they have disappeared from New England completely. There may be as few as 100 birds remaining in Virginia, a state where they were once abundant. They are listed as endangered in Canada and in 26 states, and they may soon be added to the Endangered Species List. The reason for their decline is poorly understood, but SCBI scientists are working with wildlife biologists in Virginia and West Virginia to investigate possible causes. SCBI-hatched shrikes are released into the wild, helping to bolster native populations. Information learned from breeding and studying these species will contribute to a better understanding of population declines and help conserve this threatened local species.

Micronesian Kingfisher

Micronesian kingfishers are the most endangered species in the Zoo’s and SCBI’s collection— the total population currently stands at about 131 birds. Extinct in the wild, Micronesian kingfishers flourished in Guam's limestone forests and coconut plantations until the arrival of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that stowed away in military equipment shipped from New Guinea after World War II. Within three decades, they hunted Micronesian kingfishers and eight other bird species to the brink of extinction. In 1984, Guam's Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources captured the country's remaining 29 Micronesian kingfishers and sent them to zoological institutions around the globe—including the Smithsonian's National Zoo—as a hedge against extinction. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums created a Species Survival Plan for the birds. The SSP pairs males and females in order to maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population. This species is extremely difficult to breed due to incompatibility between males and females and the inability of some parents to successfully raise their own chicks. SCBI animal care staff often hand-raise chicks, which involves feeding them at two-hour intervals, seven to eight times per day.

White-Naped Crane

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute houses white-naped cranes. These are large birds that typically stand 4 feet high. They are mostly dark-grey with a white hind neck. Destruction of its native wetland habitat in northeast China has dramatically decreased white-naped crane populations in the wild to an estimated 5,000. SCBI bird staff specialize in producing offspring from cranes with behavioral or physical impediments to natural breeding. When natural mating is not possible, staff perform artificial inseminations on the cranes.

In 2009, the white-naped crane Species Survival Plan (SSP) contained more than enough male cranes and greatly needed female offspring to prevent the population from stagnating. SCBI staff developed a technique for determining the sex of a chick before it hatched; they are able to penetrate the eggshell and extract blood without killing the embryo or introducing microorganisms that would later kill the embryo. SCBI’s science and conservation efforts have directly increased the genetic viability of the white-naped crane captive population by capturing genes that otherwise would have been lost forever. Due to the expertise of SCBI’s staff to preselect the gender of the chicks, the sex ratio in the population is no longer skewed.

The Zoo has two hooded mergansers: one male, Paulie, and one female, Carmella. Male mergansers have yellow eyes, a black bill, and black and white plumage with tawny brown sides and flanks. Males sport a dramatic fanlike crest atop their head, featuring a large white spot surrounded by black plumage.