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The Short Version: The National Aviary is one of the most unique dating destinations for nature lovers in the United States. It focuses on birds, including flamingos, penguins, and eagles, but is also home to sloths and a handful of other mammals. Animal enthusiasts can get up close and personal with species they won’t find in many other zoos. Couples who share a passion for particular birds, including flamingos, can center their date around an Animal Encounter that brings them closer to their favorite birds. And for couples who are getting married, the National Aviary’s new event space, The Garden Room offers an elegant wedding venue.
Sloths are a fan favorite at many zoos because of their sweet expressions and slow-moving charm. But at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Valentino, one of three two-toed sloths who call the Aviary home, also delights visitors with a hidden talent.
The National Aviary is a laid-back dating destination for nature-lovers with a focus on birds, but couples can also have a unique sloth-centric experience. As part of the National Aviary’s new Sloth Painting Encounter, Valentino will paint a picture for daters using colors they select.
“The activity is enriching for Valentino as it indulges his natural climbing and grasping behaviors, and it is so much fun for visitors to watch. Not only do you spend time with an adorable sloth, but you also go home with a one-of-a-kind masterpiece,” said Molly Toth, the National Aviary’s Communications Specialist.
And the National Aviary offers plenty of personalized experiences for bird enthusiasts, too. Couples can book an Animal Encounter with many species, including flamingos, penguins, owls, or hawks — perfect for couples who love to discover something new together.
In the Private Penguin Feeding experience, couples feed the animals their favorite fish while learning more about African Penguins, just one of the endangered species the National Aviary is working to conserve. Couples can get a behind-the-scenes look at the birds while on a date through this memorable encounter, and learn how they can help penguins around the world.
In an Owl Encounter, guests get to hold an owl while learning more about the bird’s special adaptations that give them incredible eyesight and the ability to fly silently. They’ll also dissect an owl pellet, take photos of the experience, and learn about the bird’s specialized beak.
And if couples are partial to flamingos, they can participate in the popular Flamingo Mingle, where they can privately explore the beach in the National Aviary’s Wetlands habitat and meet a flock of flamingos. The friendly birds are inquisitive and will often gently nudge or preen visitors.
These encounters help the Aviary continue its mission to help animals and educate the next generation of bird-lovers.
“Animal Encounters play an important role in funding our mission and the work we do to save species,” Molly said.
Plenty of couples are looking to shake up their dating routines, and a visit to the National Aviary is undoubtedly different from the average date.
The National Aviary is divided into habitats that represent the regions that its birds call home. Molly recommended checking out the newly renovated Grasslands habitat to see small songbirds from around the world. The space allows birds to fly freely, as well as encourages nesting.
“When you walk into the Grasslands, the space is calming and peaceful, you can hear birds singing sweetly, and skylights let in natural light. We updated the habitat with new flooring, new walls, and more grasses and greenery.” Molly said.
In the exhibit, couples can see brightly colored birds, including Turquoise Tanagers, Red Siskins, and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers with their long, elegant tail feathers.
Daters can also enjoy spotting these birds together in this dreamy space, and share a quiet moment in their presence. Other habitats include the Wetlands, where visitors can interact with the friendly flamingos, along with Roseate Spoonbills, Brown Pelicans, and Boat-billed Herons. Couples also enjoy this lively, dramatic habitat for its vocal residents that often call and sing to one another.
The Charity Randall Foundation Eagle Hall is home to two rehabilitated Bald Eagles that couldn’t survive without human care because of injuries they sustained in the wild. The National Aviary provides them with a comfortable, safe home that mimics their wild habitat.
Couples can stop at the Aviary’s restaurant, Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen, for a meal. The restaurant has gluten-free and vegan options and offers soups, sandwiches, and salads.
Some couples love the National Aviary so much they decide to have their weddings in the newly constructed Garden Room. The large space includes access to outdoor features and views of the park and lake surrounding the Aviary. Couples are drawn to the space because it provides beautiful outdoor views with all the amenities of an indoor venue.
The Garden Room is also Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, meaning that it’s an environmentally-conscious place to host an event. Bird-friendly glass was used in the construction, of course.
“The space is both elegant and cozy, with two beautiful fireplaces and gorgeous skylights,” Molly said.
In The Garden Room, couples can be married in front of the grand fireplace as 25 to 50 guests look on during the ceremony. Alternatively, the ceremony can take place in the Rose Garden if a couple desires an outdoor wedding. Packages include catering, access to the National Aviary’s habitats, a wedding suite, and stress-free planning support from an event manager.
“You can also add on a visit from a parrot or a bird of prey,” Molly said.
For a limited time, couples may also choose to exchange vows in the Tropical Rainforest, one of the National Aviary’s habitats. With this experience, couples get married in front of a 15-foot waterfall where a pair of Hyacinth Macaws perch. They might see some Snowy Egrets, Superb Starlings, and Nicobar Pigeons flying around them. Guests may even catch a glimpse of Wookiee, the two-toed sloth who lives in the Tropical Rainforest.
“Birds fly freely around you in the Tropical Rainforest. Up to 20 guests can join for a short, sweet ceremony in a lush habitat, with chairs spaced to allow for ample physical distancing. It’s a memorable way to say ‘I do,’” Molly told us.
Sometimes zoos can be crowded spots, but the National Aviary has implemented robust safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the Aviary has moved to an online timed ticketing system that limits capacity to allow for ample space for physical distancing. Visitors, staff, and volunteers must also wear masks at all times, and wash their hands regularly.
“Enhanced safety protocols and capacity limitations let guests have an immersive experience at the National Aviary as they explore our lush habitats, engage with our aviculturists, and enjoy close interactions with birds,” Molly said.
Before they start their shifts, staff and volunteers must take a health risk assessment and a temperature check. Posted signage ensures that all visitors remember social distancing protocols, including staying six feet away from others. Further, the National Aviary team regularly disinfects surfaces.
Further, couples can have an interesting dating experience in their own backyard. Conservation and bird-monitoring projects facilitated by the National Aviary allow them to explore local bird habits and observe migration patterns. They can get involved with projects led by National Aviary experts, including opportunities to explore owl migration, nesting backyard birds, and hummingbirds in winter in Pennsylvania.
However couples plan to experience the National Aviary, they can explore their love for birds during a fun and informative date. And the Aviary is happy that it can offer such diverse experiences, especially during a time of pandemic precautions.
“We’re always looking for ways to help our guests deepen their connection to nature,” Molly said.