Get to Know the Amazing World of Birds at the National Aviary

Get to Know the Amazing World of Birds at the National Aviary

The National Aviary located in Pittsburgh, PA is the largest aviary in the United States.

The National Aviary truly lives up to their mission statement, “Working to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.”  It is the only aviary that has earned the title “National” by declaration of the U.S. Congress on October 27, 1993. This independent, non-profit aviary, is home to over 500 birds representing 150 species from all over the world. Many of these birds are threatened or are endangered in their native habitats.

The National Aviary’s staff consists of conservationists and researchers dedicated to saving birds and protecting habitats. 

The National Aviary is truly a gem, as the minute you enter the building you are greeted by staff that is cheerful, helpful, and passionate about sharing their knowledge about the birds they feed and work with every day.

Through endangered bird breeding programs and educational programming, the National Aviary works to bring the amazing world of birds to a larger audience. The goal is to teach us the importance of being stewards of our planet and to protect all that depends on it for life.

Let us take you on a journey through The National Aviary.
The first stop is the Bald Eagle exhibit. 

The Bald Eagle is the largest and most recognizable bird in North America and has been the national bird of the United States since 1782.

According to the National Aviary, “Bald Eagles are one of the most well known conservation success stories in the world.  In the mid-20th century, Bald Eagle populations suffered a steep decline as a result of persecution, habitat loss, and the introduction of a pesticide called DDT.  Large predators, like Bald Eagles, ended up with high concentrations of DDT in their bodies, affecting the birds’ ability to lay eggs with properly formed shells. By 1978, it was estimated that 400 Bald Eagle pairs remained in the continental U.S.  Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and with reintroduction efforts and the ban of the use of DDT, Bald Eagle populations recovered. In 2007, the Bald Eagle was officially removed from the federal Endangered Species list, though it remains threatened in Pennsylvania.

Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles

During our visit, the majestic Bald Eagles were very interactive, twisting their heads in a rotating direction while their eyes remained transfixed on their subject of interest.  Steller’s Sea-Eagle, translates to “eagle of the open seas,” (pictured above) was very shy and resting in her perch a distance away — what a joy just to catch a glimpse of this magnificent bird.



Next stop is the Penguin Exhibit

Did you know that penguins spend 75% of their day in water searching for fish? Island habitats offer penguins easy access to resource-rich feeding waters.  Islands also provide penguins with habitats free from predators and human disturbance. The National Aviary is working to help save African penguins whose population decreased in the early 1990’s by as much as 90%.

Penguins are very attentive and devotional as they form long-term relationships with their mates and can identify one another through their calls.  They are also proactive in raising their chicks together.

Behind the glass, you can clearly experience how social, cute, and funny these penguins truly are.  We had several pose for us as we took their pictures — truly an entertaining experience.

Hugging Penguins
Playing Penguins
Now into The Wetlands 

The Wetlands room hosts several species of birds that are pretty colorful, noisy, and playful. This walk-through area provides birds freedom of flight; you never know where they are going to land and strike a pose.

Bird species includes American Flamingos, Brown Pelicans, Blue Crowned Motmot (also known as clock birds as they are known for swinging their tails back and forth like a pendulum), critically endangered Bali Myna (Bali), Black Faced Ibis (South America), Falcated Ducks (North America, British Columbia), and the largest species in the Toucan family, the Toco Toucan (South America).

The next stop: the Rainforest

The Rainforest felt humid and was abundant in typical rainforest plants, trees, vines, a stream, and waterfalls.

The rainforest hosts several birds such as the Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Australasian), named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria.  There were several of them perched in trees with hanging vines.

Perched closely with their mates were a couple of Hyacinth Macaw’s (South America).  Known for their intelligence and being social, they have earned the nickname “Gentle Giants.”  

Fun fact:  Hyacinth Macaw’s beaks are so strong that they can break open coconuts. 

Our last stop was the Canary’s Call

This area is a museum approach to an indoor habitat featuring thought-provoking quotes, pictures, and interactive elements that address the effects of pollution, invasive plant species, overconsumption, and the resulting habitat loss of our entire ecosystems around the world.

According to the Aviary, “The Canary is a biological indicator for the health of the ecosystem.”

Canary birds are extremely sensitive creatures and were used as an early warning signal for toxic gases in coal mines. Sick birds indicated poor air quality and alerted miners that they needed to get out of the mine or use a respirator.


The Atlantic Canary’s decorative yellow coloring (wild canaries are green, yellow, and streaked birds), cheerful demeanor, and song have evolved over centuries.

Changes in the function, health, or population of these indicator species can reveal such things as the accumulation of pollutants, changes in overall air quality, and the threat of rising ocean temperatures.”


Yellow Canary
We learned so much during our visit to the National Aviary.

If you are interested in learning more about birds, take a look at the virtual programs offered as well as opportunities to support aviaries through memberships, donations, volunteer work, adopt a bird, and corporate giving.  To learn more, we encourage you to visit their website at

We recommend the book, The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman. You can read our summary in the OPL Reads library.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

Why is Plastic a Problem?

Why is Plastic a Problem?

The answer to the question, why is plastic a problem, is simple: The world has become a plastic dumping ground. Plastic is pervasive such that we hardly pay attention. We do this to the detriment of our planet and our lives. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic is in marine and wildlife around the world. It is also in us.

There are so many great uses for plastic, but we are addicted – especially to single-use plastic. How did this happen?

Plastic was invented in 1907. Single-use plastics started in 1959 with the creation of the plastic bag. Then came the creation of the plastic bottle (for water and soda) in 1973. The convenience plastic afforded, plus lower production and shipping costs increased company profits. Companies could create products with no responsibility for the waste. Today our single-use plastic stats are astonishing and growing. The ‘use and toss’ plastic habit is rampant.


The world produces over 380 million tons of plastic per year! Of this, 50% is for single-use plastic. 
  • 500 billion plastic water bottles a year (> 1 million a day)
  • 500 billion plastic cups per year
  • 500 million straws per year
  • Plus an incredible amount of plastic packing waste
Single Use Plastic
By now, you may be thinking, this is not a problem as you recycle plastic. Well, not true. Less than 10% of plastic is recycled. 

Why isn’t plastic recycled? We created a product that does not decompose or regenerate. Plastic is created from petroleum. During the production process, CO2 is released into the air. Chemicals are added to produce products for wonderful uses, such as medical devices and wasteful single-use products. Remember that 50% of the plastic created is used for single-use products and tossed away in minutes. After use, those single-use plastic products head to landfills and into waterways. In landfills, a small amount of plastic is incinerated, emitting chemicals into the atmosphere. Most of the plastic remains in the landfill forever.  

Every plastic toothbrush you have ever used is still here.

But what about those recycle labels on plastic?

It is easy to be confused as the label on plastic looks like a recycle symbol with a number. This symbol indicates the type of plastic. Only categories 1 and 2 are candidates for recycling. Of the plastic in categories 1 and 2, only 29-30% gets recycled while others cannot be recycled. While you put plastics into the blue recycling bin, over 90% still goes to the landfill.

Plastic Recycle Symbols
We are creating an overwhelming amount of plastic waste. 

Our oceans are getting clogged with single-use plastic products and also microplastics. Plastics don’t break down, they break up into small pieces called microplastics. In the last 60 years, our use of plastic has resulted in microplastics just about everywhere. Microplastics end up in the waterways, are eaten by wildlife, and have made it inside our bodies. At this time, we do not know the effects of long-term exposure to plastics and the chemicals used in processing them.

These stats tell a sobering story about plastic pollution:
  • 13.9 million tons of plastic are going into our oceans every year (#1)
  • More than a garbage truckload of plastic goes into our ocean every minute (#2)
  • It’s estimated that over 165 million tons of plastic are in the oceans (#1)
  • 90 percent of seabirds are likely to have plastic in their guts (#1)
  • Humans eat over 40 pounds of plastic in a lifetime (#2)
  • Plastic microfibers from washing our clothes are going into our waterways.
  • There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 (#1)
We need to take action and reduce our plastic usage to protect our oceans, our wildlife, and people. 

While we need to look for more ways to recycle and to remove as much plastic as possible from our oceans, it is not enough. No waste and recycling system in the world can handle the plastic waste we are creating.

What can you do? 

People around the world are reducing their plastic usage. One good source is the book, How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum. We firmly agree with McCallum that, “Every victory against plastic begins with a single person or small group.” Now we know that plastic is choking our planet and harming our lives. It makes sense to take action. People are going plastic-free.

Begin with small changes to reduce your plastic footprint.  Then move on to refusing plastic whenever possible. Start by buying and using reusable items. Support cities and local communities banning single-use plastic. Tell everyone you know what you now know and ask them to join in.

No change is too small. Here are two joyful changes that make a measurable difference.
  1. The average American uses 365 plastic bags per year. Make the change to reusable bags.
  2. The average American uses 13 plastic bottles per month. Make the change to a reusable water bottle. 

Making just these two joyful changes will reduce plastic by 365 bags and 156 water bottles a year! Imagine how that reduction adds up as more people like you make the same habit change.

Individual actions make a difference. Everything starts small and grows into a wave that makes a difference. Our wonderful planet and our lives are worth it.  Join the people around the world in reducing plastic. Please share your plastic-free stories with us!

#plasticfreejuly #breakfreefromplastic @one_planet_life


#1 How to Give Up Plastic By Will McCallum

Vegetarian Cold Peanut (or Sesame) Noodles

Vegetarian Cold Peanut (or Sesame) Noodles

Cold noodles can be the perfect recipe for a hot summer day. The secret ingredient for these noodles is cucumber. Served with a side salad it creates a tasty and satisfying meal for lunch or dinner. You can serve these noodles as the main course, as I did, or as a side dish. Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Serves:  2 main-course or 4 side-dish servings



  • 1 lb of cucumbers
  • 12 oz of dried spaghetti noodles (or fresh Chinese egg noodles)
  • 2 tbs sesame oil
  • ½ cup tahini (for sesame noodles) or creamy peanut butter (for peanut noodles)
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 3 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tbs rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup chopped scallions
  • Salt
  • Hot chili oil or Tabasco sauce
Creamy Peanut Butter
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it.
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half and seed them (cut out the seeds). Use a grater and cut the cucumber in shreds. Set aside.
  3. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti noodles.  Cook until tender but not mushy.
  4. While the noodles are cooking, whisk together the sesame oil, tahini or peanut butter, sugar, soy, ginger, vinegar, chili oil (to taste) and pepper in a large bowl. Thin the sauce with some of the cooking water (pasta water) to the consistency of heavy cream. It will take ¼ to ½ cup. Stir in the cucumbers.
  5. When the noodles are tender, drain and rinse them under cold water.  Drain again. Add the noodles to the sauce and cucumbers.  Add salt, if desired and garnish with chopped scallions.
  6. Serve with a crunchy chopped salad.
Chef Amy

Recipe compliments of Home Chef and OPL CMO Amy Bates.

Learn more about Amy.

OPL Plant-rich Recipes

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

Switching to Reusable K-cups Saves Money and the Planet

Switching to Reusable K-cups Saves Money and the Planet

Joyful Change

If you are a fan of single-cup brewing systems, a simple switch to replacing single-use, pre-filled plastic pods with washable and reusable k-cups will save you money and put less plastic on our planet as well. Trust me. I made the switch and have never turned back.

I wasn’t an early adopter of single serve coffee machines. I liked brewing pots of coffee and it didn’t seem like a necessary switch. As my sons grew into early adulthood and our household became busier with family and friends, I gave in and bought a Keurig machine. I am now among the 40% of Americans who own a single-cup brewing system.1

From the start, I didn’t like the thought of using all that plastic per cup of coffee. 

I tried to overlook the amount of plastic we were throwing away and the amount of money I was spending on pre-filled coffee pods. I didn’t realize how much more costly these little convenient, pre-filled plastic coffee pods were.

It’s been estimated that using pre-filled k-cups costs 5 times more than brewing coffee. 

My enjoyment of coffee started to wane when I would select coffee pods based on which brand was on sale versus choosing the coffee I wanted to drink. I realized I needed to make a change for my wallet and for the planet so that I could get back to enjoying drinking coffee again.

When I purchased the single-serve coffee machine it came with a reusable pod but we didn’t use it much at first. I purchased two more reusable pods just like the original one so that we could have pods in rotation for mornings and group gatherings.

Now, I purchase the coffee I want to drink based on what matters — flavor, quality and who makes it. 

If I want to enjoy a delicious cup of Larry’s Coffee (a B-corp that makes great coffee) I simply fill my reusable k-cup with the good stuff, insert the pod in the coffee maker, and let the magic happen. The switch to reusable pods was a joyful change for me and the environment. If you would like to eliminate the plastic from a single-serve coffee maker, purchase reusable pods and enjoy your coffee.  

Larry's Coffee and k-cps

1-U.S. ownership of single-cup brewing systems 2005-2020, Statista, 2020

Amy Bates

This experience was shared by OPL CMO Amy Bates.

Learn more about Amy.

Make Your Own Infused Water

Make Your Own Infused Water

Joyful Change

Years ago I found that the best way for me to stay hydrated and to drink more water was to infuse it with nature’s bounty.  The joyful change of simply adding delicious flavors directly from my garden made drinking water a low-calorie and in-expensive treat.

As a naturalist, I am very aware of how important it is to drink an ample amount of water each day. Our amazing bodies need water to function correctly. In fact, most living organisms need water to survive. Every morning, I start my day by drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water. But, here’s my problem:  I do not like the taste of water. I know that water is supposed to be tasteless; however, when I turn on the tap water, I can smell the chlorine and it turns me off. I have a Brita filter, which helps, but I found a much better and delicious solution — infused water.  It tastes great and makes me feel happy.

I love the taste of fresh herbs, fruit, berries, and, sometimes, vegetables in my infused water. It’s like I have a wide variety of spa water at my fingertips.  

 There are many reasons for making this delicious, refreshing treat:

  • It is economical.
  • It takes very little time to prepare.
  • It includes no sugar additives.
  • Using your own creativity, you can make a variety of flavors.
Just think about how fun it would be to create a spa water bar for your summer picnics and barbecues.

Nature infused water a great way to stay hydrated and offers something special and healthy for your guests.

I found experimenting with what is in the growing season in my garden to be the most delicious. Removing citrus rinds before adding them to the water will reduce any of the bitterness.  In place of filtered water, you may want to try carbonated water for a bubbly treat.

Try three of my favorite blends here under Recipes.  If you have your favorite blends for infused water please share them below in our comments.  We’d love to hear from you.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

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