ROUND-UP! Tots love meeting the hedgehog and other critters at Discovery Center in Murfreesboro.
Middle Tennessee boasts several animal attractions and critter encounters for kids. Here are our favorites along with a few of the highlights at beloved out-of-town destinations.
Bowie Park Nature Center
7211 Bowie Lake Road, Fairview
615-799-5544 • bowiepark.org
The free Saturday NatureNauts program with a local naturalist often includes live animals. This month, discover pond animals (April 16), salamanders (April 23) and frogs (April 23). The monthly Homeschool Program also includes live animals on a regular basis.
1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville
615-356-8000 • cheekwood.org
New this year (for Cheekwood in Bloom), kids can visit the Clover Patch Sanctuary Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. through April 23 to encounter bunnies, chicks and ducks. Free with gate admission ($16 adults, $9 ages 3 – 17).
Discovery Center at Murfree Spring
502 S.E. Broad St., Murfreesboro
615-890-2300 • explorethedc.org
Meet a resident critter every Wednesday at 4 p.m. during Animal Antics. This month, kids can see cockroaches (April 6), birds (April 13), a corn snake (April 20) and the blue-tongued skink (April 27). Other resident animals to see throughout the year include a rabbit, great horned owl, hedgehog, chinchilla, ferret, tarantula and more. Admission is $8.
Honeysuckle Hill Farm
1765 Martins Chapel Church Road
Springfield • 615-382-7593
Spring tours run April 1 – May 31 (by reservation only), and kids can meet sheep, donkeys, cows, goats, rabbits, chickens and racing pigs. Available Mon – Fri 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. $8 ages 3 and older.
Lucky Ladd Farms
4374 Rocky Glade Road, Eagleville
Lucky’s Barnyard has more than 100 animals, but the friendliest for petting and brushing are goats and sheep. Feed llamas and chickens, and for an extra $5, little ones can enjoy a pony ride. Opening Wednesday, June 1 is the Wings of Wonder Butterfly House, a walk-through greenhouse for kids to learn about butterflies while hand feeding them a special nectar. The farm is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wed – Sat. Admission is $13 adults, $11 ages 2 – 12.
3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville
615-833-1534 • nashvillezoo.org
Home to 2,248 individual animals representing 353 species, the zoo’s the top spot for animal encounters! Four main interactive attractions: Critter Encounters features Galapagos tortoises, goats, alpaca, Dromedary camels and several birds. Lorikeet Landing aviary features more than 50 friendly Australian lorikeet parrots. For $2, hold a cup of nectar and the birds will land on you for a treat. Shell Station has 10 Sulcata tortoises native to the Sahara desert which kids love walking around; feed them for $2. Kangaroo Kickabout is home to 18 red kangaroos in an open 4,500-square-foot habitat where they’ll come close to the pathway for pets. A temporary White Rhino habitat is coming later in the year to occupy the former elephant savanna. Additionally, the Zoo offers two unique animal programs: Zoo Tots (ages 18 months – 5 years) in spring and fall (spring is already full; the fall program starts in mid-August), and the Jr. Zookeeper program for ages 10 – 15 in June and July; registration opens April 15. Zoo hours are 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $14 adults, $11 ages 2 – 12.
Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary
545 Beech Creek Road, Brentwood
615-370-4672 • owlshill.org
Kids love meeting the Sanctuary’s six resident education owls: Adromeda and Boomerang (great horned owls), Hoot and Annie (Eastern screech owls), Orion (barn owl) and Thoreau (barred owl). The monthly Knee-High Naturalist program for preschoolers often includes animal themes as do special events throughout the year. On Sunday, April 10, there’s an all-ages Falconry Program ($7) including demonstrations. Registration’s required.
Radnor Lake State Park
1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville
615-373-3467 • radnorlake.org
The Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center is home to non-releasable birds of prey like great horned owls and red-tailed hawks. View an American Bald Eagle at the flighted eagle aviary (I’m told another eagle is coming soon). Programs take place throughout the year.
Shelby Bottoms Nature Center
1900 Davidson Drive, Nashville
615-862-8539 • nashville.gov/parks
The nature center hosts free animal programs throughout the year, including catch-and-release creek crawls in the summer, bird banding, insect studies, owl prowls and spider hikes. Kids love getting up close to live hummingbirds in the summer. This month, all ages can monitor the park’s beaver family during Beaver Patrol on Thursday, April 14, and look for crayfish on Thursday, April 28 during Let’s Get “Cray.” Programs require advance registration. Find all of the center’s events in our “”RSVP Events” section of “Things To Do.”
Warner Parks Nature Center
7311 Hwy. 100 Nashville
The Nature Center hosts free programs all year long, many with animals like birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles. The Explore the Pond program on Saturday, April 23 invites all ages to look for tadpoles and dragonfly nymphs. Find all of the center’s events in our “”RSVP Events” section of “Things To Do.”
The Wilderness Station
697 Veterans Pkwy. Murfreesboro 615-217-3017
The free weekly Animal Encounters program takes place Saturdays from 1:30 – 2 p.m. featuring different animals that call Tennessee home. There’s also a free ongoing Box Turtle Research Study for ages 8 and older that takes place at the Nickajack Wetlands on select Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. (upcoming dates are April 26 and May 3, 10 & 17). The free monthly Bird Club for ages 6 and older meets at different locations (this month it’s Saturday, April 23 at Cason Lane Greenway Trailhead … bring your binoculars!
SELECT OUT-OF-TOWN ANIMAL ATTRACTIONS
Road tripping? Here are some animal spots we recommend:
The California sea lion exhibit opened March 31. For an extra $15, book a “Behind the Seas” tour for a better look at creatures through a guided experience. Three interactive programs require advance booking: penguins ($60), sea otters ($60) and beluga whales ($181).
Home to nearly 1,300 animals, Zoo Atlanta is the city’s oldest cultural institution and one of the nation’s 10 oldest zoos. The giant pandas are a main attraction here, and Zoo Atlanta is home to the only twin giant pandas in the United States, Mei Lun and Mei Huan. Kids love the “Boundless Budgies: A Parakeet Adventure” area where they can feed the hundreds of friendly birds. Another popular spot for kids is the petting zoo where friendly goats and sheep await hugs and brushing. Zoo Atlanta boasts lots of wildlife shows and keeper talks, and Saturday is chock-full of these special events. Visiting tip: Arrive early when the gates open as the animals like the lions and orangutans are more active first thing in the morning.
St. Louis Zoo
Boasting 18,700 exotic animals (many rare or endangered), you can easily spend a whole day here. The new Stingrays at Caribbean Cove exhibit opens Friday, April 15; feed them for $4. The Children’s Zoo ($4) lets kids get close to several creatures for petting. Another favorite thing about the St. Louis Zoo: FREE admission!
More than 3,500 animals represent 500 species and the zoo is expanding with new exhibits and interactive programs. Opening Saturday, April 30: the Zambezi River Hippo exhibit. There’s a new free-flight bird show, and kids will love feeding the giraffes (Wed – Sun 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. & 2 – 3 p.m.) for an extra $5. You can also take a ride on the back of a camel.
Chattanooga’s home to one of East Tennessee’s best destinations: The Tennessee Aquarium. Two distinct buildings house river and ocean species separately. The Penguins Rock exhibit is our favorite along with the interactive Butterfly Garden where kids love getting close to magical, fluttering creatures. Little ones can also enjoy the thrill of touching sharks and rays, and at different times each day, you might be lucky enough to catch a diver in the giant tanks offering a unique presentation on the marine life swimming around him. Kids also love the tropical bird presentations. For an extra $17 on top of aquarium admission, ages 7 and older can participate in the Backstage Pass program allowing VIP access behind the scenes with the animal caretakers. The 45-minute experience lets guests get up close, touch and feed select animals that aren’t on exhibit. Book the Backstage Pass in advance.
ANIMAL TALES BRINGS THE CRITTERS TO YOU!
Make your animal-loving child’s next birthday more memorable by having critters brought to the party. Animal Tales, the company that presents animal education programs at public attractions and events, also has birthday packages ranging from $275 – $350 depending on your location. Animal Tales brings six animals to your party (choose from 20). Choices include a red kangaroo, snakes, a bat, chinchilla, porcupine and more. Learn more at animaledzoocation.com.