The new museum at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove seamlessly blends art and nature into an education center that is sure to create a new generation of birders.
The result of 15 years of planning, the new jewel in the Mill Grove site demonstrates the best possible result of a public/private collaboration. Funding for the museum came from local and state government as well as contributions from private individuals and foundation supporters. Representatives from the local and national Audubon Societies as well as local officials were actively involved in the planning process which has been well thought out and executed.
With a design reminiscent of a bird in flight, the building blends into the natural surroundings and includes outdoor spaces that are as welcoming to its feathered visitors as its human ones. The landscaping includes only native plants and though completed only about a month ago, already has seen birds make themselves at home feeding and nesting. In fact, the speakers at the museum’s ribbon cutting remarked on the natural bird sounds (as one noted, they were not piped in for the event) and noted that just beyond the center, a Bald Eagle served as a distraction as it circled above the Perkiomen Creek.
Art in Nature
While the museum is ideal for families, there is something for all ages. Fans of John James Audubon’s artwork will be impressed by his Birds of America displays (both a digital, interactive version of his book as well as one of the few remaining first editions in its exceptionally large size are exhibited) as well as some examples of his artwork of other animals. His groundbreaking methods of drawing and painting birds are explored both in an exhibit and during a brief film about his life.
Visitors can elect to be “banded” upon arrival and through interactive displays, learn specifics about a particular bird species. Exhibits reveal individual bird songs, explore how beaks and feet work, and discover how far and fast some birds travel through their migratory patterns. Birds’ nests and eggs are compared as are feathers and wing structure.
The importance of conservation is also explained as well as methods used by researchers and conservationists. Throughout the museum are several 3D paintings with “Please Touch” signs. These life-sized images not only depict birds as they are seen in real life, they also help those who are visually impaired also “see” what these birds look like.
Learning Through Play
The outdoor Fledgling Trail, funded in part by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be the highlight for families with young children. Here, young visitors will explore the life of a young bird “from egg to flight.” Following the trail, visitors are encouraged to flap their wings, listen for clues outside the nest and get ready to fly by practicing movements to build strength and agility. An active game on the trail allows kids to be part of the game as they move from space to space based on a roll of the dice. Along the way, they learn about migration and encounter obstacles such as power lines and cared for after an injury at a rehabilitation center. Kids even have the opportunity to build a nest large enough for them to sit in!
lThe Audubon Center also has several resident birds that cannot be released into the wild. These include three Screeching Owls (Abby, Scooter and Oscar), Conrad the Blue Jay, Hopper the Broad-winged Hawk, Oden the Great Horned Owl and Sherlock the Barred Owl. The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove also includes the original farmhouse that served as the artist’s first home in the U.S. and five miles of nature trails including the 4.3 mile Audubon Loop Trail. Other trails (such as the Perkiomen and Schuylkill River Trails) are also nearby and connect the site to other outdoor attractions in the county such as Valley Forge National Park.