Visitors to Franklin Park Zoo in Boston can now immerse themselves in a newly renovated outdoor habitat home to Andean condors. The condor habitat, renamed Raptor Ridge, went through an extensive upgrade this past spring and summer, with one of the focuses to maintain the integrity of the original architecture.
Raptor Ridge, the aviary that is home to Franklin Park Zoo’s Andean condors, was previously called the Flight Cage, but was renamed to pay homage to the impressive birds that call this space home. The huge iron and steel structure, originally called the Aquatic Flying Cage, was once home to waterfowl, pelicans, ibis and a flamingo flock. The aviary was built over 110 years ago, and one of only two original buildings still standing at the Zoo, alongside the William Austin Bird House (known as Bird’s World). Bird’s World was the first structure to be completed and received its first inhabitants on February 26, 1912.
When Franklin Park Zoo was being planned, designer Arthur Shurcliff was encouraged by his mentors, the acclaimed Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot, to take courses in a new field which Olmsted called “Landscape Architecture.” Shurcliff worked with Olmsted before going solo to design landmarks like Boston’s Charles River Esplanade, Old Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg. When Shurcliff started his own practice, he became a landscape architect for the Boston Parks Department and helped design Franklin Park Zoo.
From his initial sketches of the Aquatic Flying Cage, now known as Raptor Ridge, it is clear that Shurcliff aspired to a naturalistic design. He designed the Grotto in 1912 as the original water source for the habitat, and which triple arches suggest an ancient subterranean ruin. The Grotto was concealed by a later design of the space, and during the recent renovation was carefully excavated to reveal the monumental stonework that defined this early structure. This structure was thoughtfully designed with ledges for birds to nest and alcoves to grow plants.
Keeping the integrity of the original structure was important. The renovation took seven months to complete, replacing 42,000 feet of mesh and requiring 180 gallons of paint. The landscaping was completely redone with predominantly native plants chosen to have a similar look to the environment where the birds are from, and water plants will be added in the spring. The ceiling in the walkway was raised over two feet to allow for a better guest experience. Additionally, more flight paths and perches were added, including closer perching for better visibility when the birds use them.
Raptor Ridge features a 300-foot-long watercourse that drops 12 feet over five waterfalls. This grand space is equally as impressive as the inhabitants; the Andean condor is the biggest raptor in the world and the largest flying bird in South America. These majestic creatures live in the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains. A condor’s wingspan is around 10 feet and they can soar to heights of 18,000 feet.
Zoo New England is an active participant in the Andean Condor Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild.