National Aviary Research Helps Study Water Quality

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh is a zoo for birds and a great education and entertainment venue that attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year. With more than 600 birds of 200 species, visitors can feed lorikeets, experience the flyby of a massive Eurasian eagle owl, or get up close with an African penguin. But the Aviary is much more than just a fun place to visit. Its Department of Conservation and Field Research was formed in 2005 to investigate the impacts of human population density and resource consumption on the environment. Dr. Todd Katzner, director, and Dr. Steven Latta, assistant director, have expanded the Aviary's reach through multiple conservation-oriented research projects, both domestic and international. This advisory addresses one of those projects.

of changes in water quality on birds
Clean water is essential to human well-being, but it is also critical to birds. In fact, some birds that live and breed in water may be good indicators of the quality of the water on which both species depend.

To study the relationships of birds and water quality, Dr. Steven Latta has undertaken research that focuses on the Louisiana Waterthrush, a species that spends nearly its entire life on fast-moving streams. The project is unique because it is the first to study the biology of any stream-dependant bird on both its North American breeding grounds and its Latin American wintering grounds. Latta's goal is to understand the relationship between Louisiana Waterthrush and water quality and to evaluate how effective the species is as an indicator of water quality.

To study Louisiana Waterthrush, Latta and his colleagues focus on breeding birds in western Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains and on wintering birds in the Dominican Republic. In Pennsylvania, nests are located in the field and adult and juvenile birds are marked with unique color bands so that Latta can determine how successful the birds are in reproducing and surviving. In the Dominican Republic, Latta determines rates of survival throughout the winter, and identifies habitat features that contribute to increased survival. Stream sedimentation and acidification are studied, as are vegetation characteristics, and the insect populations on which the birds depend.

To learn more about Conservation & Field Research projects at the National Aviary, go to Dr. Katzner and Dr. Latta are available to discuss any of these projects. Contact Daryl Clemmens, Forge Communications,, 412-279-4500 or Laura Ellis, National Aviary,, 412-323-7235, ext. 215.

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