the National Aviary
Penguins and chicks at the National Aviary.

It was fitting that as National Aviary officials announced the organization’s accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, an owl, some penguins and a couple of flamingos tried to steal the show.

At a press conference announcing the Aviary’s accreditation by AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission, AZA Executive Director Kris Vehrs praised the Aviary’s standards of care for its animals, educational programs, veterinary care and visitor experience.

“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards and are proven leaders in the care and conservation of wildlife as well as education,” Vehrs said. “The community can take great pride in knowing that the National Aviary is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of conservationists.”

Chris Vehrs of the AZA and Cathy Schlott and Cheryl Tracy of the National Aviary. Photo courtesy National Aviary.

The AZA accreditation process involves an on-site inspection by zoo and aquarium professionals, which looks at every aspect of the operation. This includes animal care, safety of animals and staff, conservation efforts, educational programs, financial stability, and visitor management, among other areas. Accredited organizations have to renew their status every five years. The Aviary first earned its accreditation in 1984.

“We are delighted that our efforts to maintain the highest level of excellence have earned this important recognition, not only for the quality of care we provide to our birds, but also in our commitment to the visitor experience, to education, and to conservation efforts in the field,” said Aviary managing director Cheryl Tracy. “I could not be more proud of our growth, and of the dedicated professional team that continues to push for an ever more dynamic and vibrant National Aviary experience. They are always looking for new ways to enhance the health and well-being of our birds, and to provide opportunities for guests to learn about and encounter birds in memorable ways.”

The renewed accreditation will allow the Aviary to participate in the AZA Species Survival Plan, which allows accredited members to share animals, as part of a national breeding program. In 2015 alone, the Aviary has hatched 85 chicks of various species. It also allows the Aviary to share practices and professional development and training with other AZA members.

In 2010 the National Aviary completed a major expansion project Since then, it’s added staff and grown its revenue, from $1.1 million in 2009 to $2.3 million in 2014, spokeswoman Robin Weber says. That’s meant an increase in its operating budget, which has grown from $3.6 million in 2009 to just over $5 million.

The Aviary has seen a steady uptick in attendance over the past several years, as well, hitting records in 2013 and 2014. Attendance numbers between 2008 and 2012 averaged around 115,000 annual visitors. Then in 2013, the Aviary topped 135,000 visitors, and in 2014 had more than 139,000 visitors, Weber says. Year-to-date 2015 attendance is up four percent from this time last year.

It’s also added to its collection of feathered friends: in 2014 alone, the Aviary added 63 new birds to its collection, which now tops 500 birds.

The Aviary is now the only organization in Pittsburgh to be accredited by the AZA; Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium dropped its AZA accreditation in August in a disagreement about its elephant care.

Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor who spends way too much time on Twitter. Her experience includes crime, features and business reporting, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh. She was...