Interactive Australian bird exhibit opens at zoo

Bird lovers looking for a fun way to spend a weekend will now have the option to spend an afternoon at "the junction of two creeks," otherwise known as Woodland Park Zoo's Willawong Station. The 1,200-square-foot exhibit filled with colorful Australian parrots has become a permanent fixture at the zoo.

An Australian experience

Opening last Saturday, May 28, the exhibit is the zoo's latest interactive venture, allowing visitors to feed more than 150 free-flying birds right out of their hands, according to a press release.

Exhibit designers and project researchers went to other zoos with similar exhibits, including the Hogle Zoo in Utah, to get ideas for developing Willawong Station. The exhibit, designed to "vicariously transport visitors into the world of the Australian parrot," is located in the former tree kangaroo exhibit in the Australasia bioclimatic zone, which includes wallaroos, keas and kookaburras.

"Visitors walk into a room that's designed to look like Australia. It's really an experience," said Wendy Hochnadel, of the Woodland Park Zoo. "There was a guy here from Australia, and he said it felt like he was back at home."

The station's bird collection will feature budgerigars, commonly known as parakeets or budgies; cockatiels, the smallest members of the cockatoo family; and rosellas, known for their quiet nature and bright orange and red hues.

Bourke's parakeets, another type of Australian parrot often referred to as "grass parrots" because they spend most of their time on the ground, will be added to the mix in about a month to give the collection more diversity.

What to expect

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors age 3 and older will be charged $1 for admission, which includes a seed stick to feed the birds with. (This is in addition to regular zoo admission.)

They can then enter the kea lobby, dedicated to caring for rarer birds like keas, parrots from New Zealand that are currently classified as a vulnerable species.

From the lobby, visitors will move on to the free-flight aviary, where they can begin feeding the birds. This area is a large open space, filled with trees for perching and a platform for people to stand on while holding out their seed sticks.

"It's just a fun opportunity to see these beautiful, free-flying, colorful birds," Hochnadel said.

As visitors exit, they are offered literature about caring for pet birds, backyard birds and birds all around the world.

Conservation effort

Although none of the parrots featured in the exhibit are in danger of becoming extinct, the zoo encourages visitors to learn about responsible care and conservation for birds in the wild and at home.

The zoo is currently involved in several conservation projects aimed at protecting habitats for a variety of birds. Researchers, other zoos and organizations are working cooperatively on these projects to preserve rare birds such as Humboldt penguins and billed hornbills and their native lands.

The Woodland Park Zoo opens every day at 9:30 a.m. For more information about Willawong Station, visit www.

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