Aviary feathers its (clean) nests with new bloodlines

Walla Walla University volunteers pause from cleaning up the environment around the Pioneer Park Aviary. “Helping hands have beautified (the aviary) for birds and visitors alike recently,” said Joanna Lanning, primary aviary caretaker.

Walla Walla University volunteers pause from cleaning up the environment around the Pioneer Park Aviary. “Helping hands have beautified (the aviary) for birds and visitors alike recently,” said Joanna Lanning, primary aviary caretaker. Courtesy photo

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Mother Nature can be pretty messy, and sometimes so can her winged creatures.

With that in mind, Walla Walla University biology professor Joe Galusha brought 23 students to the Pioneer Park Aviary earlier in the fall to prune, weed, rake and remove loads of debris that had accumulated in both pond enclosures, said Joanna Lanning, primary aviary caretaker.

The facility benefits from weekly volunteers. For a long time, Jean Pennington has fed the pheasants and cleaned their enclosures several times a week. Whitman student Katy Gillespie and Waitsburg residents Jim and Pat Davison assist with leaf cleanup, daily feeding and cleaning chores.

Jim also repaired nest boxes and handcrafted some new ones, Joanna said. He is currently securing pheasants’ perches with new brackets and replacing damaged or missing perches.

“The volunteers’ efforts and hours are very much appreciated and help make the aviary a pleasant place for the birds to reside and for the visitors to enjoy,” Joanna said.

New aviary arrivals came into town via an airplane assist rather than under their own feather power. A young male Lady Amherst’s pheasant is now at the aviary, soon to be joined by two hens.

“Our elder male passed away some time ago, so this youngster will be a welcome sight this spring by visitors who have missed the bird’s colorful presence. This young pheasant is not yet sporting the iridescent plumage he will have when he is fully mature.”

Much-needed cinnamon teal and green-wing teal hens came from the same breeder. Two grey peacock pheasant hens hatched and reared at the aviary will be sent early in the new year to the New York breeder in trade for the birds he sent to Walla Walla, Joanna said.

Vital to the health and well-being of the aviary breeding population is integrating new bloodlines from across the country.

Native to tiny Laysan island in the outer Hawaiian archipelago, a pair of endangered Laysan teal came in November from Cairo, Neb., in exchange for a pair of northern pintails. The Laysans join a resident pair in the lower pond and offspring are anticipated this spring.

In recent months offspring from resident aviary birds have been sold to breeders and zoos in the Pacific Northwest, Florida, Texas and Minnesota. Revenue created from the sale of these birds helps support the aviary, Joanna said.

“The excellent health and quality of the aviary’s young birds have assisted in establishing the aviary’s outstanding reputation as well as making it a visitors’ destination point while visiting Walla Walla.”

Local artist Marilee Schiff, who has created paintings of the aviary birds, recently donated some of her work to the aviary as a fundraiser. The paintings can be viewed at the aviary off Whitman Street, displayed in the nursery windows. For sale for $50 each, all the proceeds will go to the birds. For more information or to purchase one call 527-4403.

“The community’s support for the aviary has continued this past year and the staff is extremely grateful and appreciative. Proposed renovations if completed will make this facility even more enjoyable and educational for visitors and much safer for the birds.”

Renovation proposals under discussion are renovating the upper pond enclosure for approximately $375,000. To redo the lower pond would be about $285,000.

“The staff unanimously would like to see the lower pond renovated for a myriad of reasons. From a management standpoint the concrete footprint of the pond with its stable footing enables the caretaker to get in the water at any location with waders if waterfowl need to be attended to. This is not the case in the upper pond where the bottom is deep silt and mud, making it very unstable. If a bird is injured or ill it is almost impossible to capture them in the upper pond for medical attention unless they are in very poor shape and then it is often too late,” she said.

Vagrant mallards and American wigeons have invaded the upper pond through holes and prior collapses of the netting. Multiple pairs of many of the waterfowl species exist, where one or two pairs would suffice, Joanna said.

With updates and improvements, more staff time could be spent in education, tours and traveling to schools, senior centers and retirement facilities because of a reduced enclosure size and increased ease of caring for the winged inhabitants.

“Hopefully some kind of agreement can be reached and the funds raised to keep the aviary and the beautiful birds that reside there in Walla Walla for our residents and visitors to enjoy and treasure now and for the generations to come,” she said.

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