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Some rather close-up bird-watching at six walk-through aviaries; in the Bay Area, Fresno, Salt Lake City, Denver.

Short of a jungle trip, where can you take a winter walk through a steamy green haven alive with rainbow-colored birds? Six walk-through aviaries-in the Bay Area, Fresno, Salt Lake City, and Denver-let you do just that.

Now through spring is the best time to visit an aviary. Birds are in their most colorful and active stage, as they acquire bright breeding plumage and begin endearing-and sometimes odd courtship rituals, such as feeding one another and mutually preening (grooming feathers with the bill). You'll hear some wonderful sounds at aviaries: the mellow whistle of a piping plover, the click click of a hammerkop, the squawk of a hungry lory. Birds are most talkative in early morning and at dusk.

Bring binoculars and come early if possible right when the zoo opens-so you can watch the birds still feeding. Stand or sit quietly in one place and look systematically on the ground and by water sources for small ground birds and waterfowl, in the upper canopy for larger birds and nesting activity, and in the canopy's middle layer for smaller, more reticent birds.

Aviaries in the Bay Area

San Francisco Zoo, Sloat Boulevard and 45th Avenue; (415) 661-4844. The 1940sera indoor aviary, damaged by fire last year, has recently been renovated. You can see some 70 birds-sacred ibis perched in the treetops, small Inca terns skimming the stream for food, regal-looking blue-crowned pigeons strutting about, A waterfall and stream harbor exotic ducks and other waterfowl.

If you'd like to work with injured birds or rare species, volunteer for the zoo's Avian Conservation Program; call the volunteer coordinator at 661-7104. On March 19 at 8 A.M., the Spring Birdabout offers a guided bird-watching tour of the zoo for $10 including admission; call 661-2023 to reserve. Zoo hours are 10 to 5 daily; admission is $5, $2 seniors and ages 12 through 15, under 12 free with adult.

Marine World Africa USA, at the junction of Interstate 80 and State 37, 5 miles north of the Carquinez Bridge, Vallejo; (707) 643-6722. This net-covered aviary lets you walk among some 50 lories and lorikeets; they descend in a chattering, flapping cloud to eat out of your hand. These friendly, parrot-like Indonesian birds sport dramatic plumage variously lime green or black marked with scarlet, yellow, and orange. They like to perch on high spots (which may mean your head) and are attracted to earrings, hats, and painted fingernails.

Visitors can enter the aviary for a halfhour twice daily with an attendant who gives feeding instructions and fruit for the birds (call for schedule; rain cancels). Half-hour bird shows, given throughout the day (check posted times), feature raptors and rain-forest and talking birds. Winter hours, through March 19, are 9:30 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays; winter admission is $15.95, $11.95 seniors, $10.95 ages 4 through 12.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, you'll walk into a jungle with a hundred birds of 35 species among a waterfall, stream, and dense foliage. Look for the brilliant Brazilian cardinal, a flock of raucous, parrotlike lemon-yellow sun conures, the toco toucan and its big yellow bill. A hummingbird enclosure houses species such as the purple honeyereeper (its curved bill lets it drink flower nectar) and the sparkling violet-ear with its purple head patch. Hours are 10 to 5 daily; admission is $3, $2 seniors, $1 ages 4 through 14. (For more on the zoo's new rain forest, see page 58.)

In the Mountain States Tracy Aviary, in Liberty Park, 589 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City; (801) 5965034. This 12 1/2-acre facility, recently renovated, is the oldest aviary in the country, and, although you can't walk in among the birds, it's too good to miss. The largest collection of birds in the West is here: some 900 birds of about 240 species, including rare bat falcons, the endangered thick-billed parrot (this country's only remaining native parrot), ostriches, and emus. You may notice the noisy ones first: bustards who yap like dogs and toucans who chug like express trains. Open 9 to 4:30 daily; free.

Denver Zoo, in City Park, Denver; (303) 331-4100. Bird World lets you walk from a rain forest to a swamp or a shorebird habitat, past the Asian and many other habitats. A walk through a short cave leads into the enclosed warm, moist rain forest; look for giant Indian fruit bats, the noisy hammerkop, and the flashy scarlet ibis. In a room full of hummingbirds, watch them flutter about overhead. The pair of rare great hornbills may be beginning to nest the male "muds in" his mate in the cavity of a tree, Hours are 10 to 5 daily; admission is $4, $2 seniors and ages 6 through 15.
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Date:Feb 1, 1989
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