Miami Metrozoo’s new exhibit is for the birds
May was party time for the Miami Metrozoo. To herald the opening of its new 50,000-square-foot aviary, the Park and Recreation Department of Miami-Dade County joined with the Zoological Society of Florida (ZSF) to host events such as the Pan-Asian Dance Review and the Costume and Flag Parade of Nations. The American Bankers Family Aviary, Wings of Asia — the Western Hemisphere’s largest open-air Asian aviary — replaces the zoo’s original aviary, which was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
During the hurricane, zoo staff members took precautions to save the birds in the aviary, including sheltering a flock of flamingos in the men’s bathroom. However, most of the birds escaped when a classroom trailer ripped through netting that covered the exhibit. Almost two-thirds of the winged creatures actually returned to their roosts after the storm died down, but the hurricane had leveled the aviary’s structure. Lacking resources to rebuild the exhibit immediately, the zoo was forced to send the remaining animals elsewhere. Today, only a few bent palm trees and one female, Sulawesi-colored mynah remain from the previous exhibit.
Zoo officials wanted to rebuild the exhibit as a free-flight aviary where visitors could observe the birds and the birds would have a safe, hurricane-proof shelter. The Portico Group, a Seattle-based company, led the aviary’s design team, which included Miami-based firms Spillis Candela DMJM, Curtis Rogers Design Studio and EAC Consulting. Orlando, Fla.-based PCL Construction Services was the general contractor.
The exhibit resembles ancient ruins — complete with decaying walls, babbling streams and an Asian temple — and should withstand winds of 110 miles per hour (or a category 5 hurricane). A tent-like, iron-mesh netting covers the free-flight area. The designers focused on replicating natural systems, and visitors can now enjoy waterfalls; an underwater viewing area complete with ducks, fish and turtles; three observation levels; and the exhibition of many birds in their natural flocks.
The exhibit’s theme emphasizes that birds are the evolutionary result of dinosaurs. The Field Research Center, located at the entrance of the exhibit, includes an actual dig pit, interpretive displays and a short film exploring the links between the feathered creatures and their scaley ancestors. Midland, Mich.-based Design Craftsmen casted several dinosaur fossils for the exhibit, including a 17-foot Monolophosaurus — a replica of a specimen from China.
Funding for the project came from many sources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state and county funding, and corporate and private donations all contributed to the $13.6 million needed to create the aviary. To maintain its portion of federal funding, the aviary’s team completed construction within 22-months.
The work was worth the effort, say ZSF officials. “We’re better than before the hurricane,” says Sherrie Avery, director of public relations for ZSF. The zoo is ready to prove it with rare specimens such as the Mindanao bleeding-heart doves, and enough new vegetation to possibly qualify the zoo as a botanical garden. The aviary also is participating in a species survival program to breed the white-winged wood duck, of which only 300 remain in the wild.
Zoo officials hope the aviary will bring in around 200,000 to 250,000 visitors this year. Since the addition opened on May 3, the zoo already has outperformed its attendance from May and June of last year.