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Birds pray for stronger breeze

Plans for an unusual wind-powered home for birds of prey at the zoo in Portland, Oregon had been a breeze -- until planners discovered there is not enough wind at the urban site to help power the new aviary. The zoo has a collection of 17 owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, ravens, a South American vulture named Maya, and even an Andean condor, Andy, with a wing-span of 11 feet.

Architects designing the 6000 square-foot facility at Metro Washington Park Zoo had decided some months ago that it would be a form of poetic justice, as well as good environmentalism, if the birds' new residence used wind power bought from Portland General Electric Co (PGE). There has long been controversy over the impact of wind farms on the habitat and lives of raptors, as birds of prey are also known. When plans were unveiled late last year, the new aviary was revealed as both energy efficient and a good home for the birds. Its open ends would allow north winds to travel through a "flight corridor" to improve air quality and ventilation. Heat was to be generated from wind power.

The design was also to make it easier for the birds to exercise and for handlers to train them. "The birds, especially Andy, the condor, will benefit from roomier enclosures allowing room to fly and a place to sun," says Dave Siddon, birds of prey programme director.

It would also have been a great advertisement for wind power. The zoo's bird of prey show attracts an audience of more than a quarter million people yearly and an estimated 100,000 youngsters see the show at various schools. PGE has been a major sponsor of the show since 1991 and had donated more than a third of the expected construction cost for the new aviary of $355,000.

But it was only after the plans were unveiled that the designers discovered there is not enough wind at the site, says Steve Cohen from the zoo. The birds have been in a temporary home for some ten years that is about half the size of the new one.

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