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.

Simple Habit Change Results in Two Big Wins

Simple Habit Change Results in Two Big Wins

You regularly hear that change is hard. Well, it can be but it can also be easier than you think. 

Over the past few years, I’ve made a simple habit change that resulted in big wins for me and the planet.  That made it a simple and joyful change —  a double win!

Most of us have come to acknowledge that many of our well-intentioned, learned habits are having a measurable and negative impact on our planet. As our lives have become increasingly busier, we have adopted habits that appeal to our desire for convenience and personalization, without considering the dark side of the new habit.

Take, for example, bottled water. Access to good drinking water is an important issue. The low cost and portability of PET bottled water is the reason bottled water consumption has grown from 50 billion bottles per year in 2003 to more than 480 billion bottles sold in 2016.

It’s anticipated single use plastic water bottle consumption will grow another 20% in 2021.  

Okay, makes sense, right, since most of us are choosing to drink water over a carbonated, sugary beverage. Water is a much better beverage choice and single-use bottled water is easy, inexpensive, and portable.  What’s the problem?


Plastic Bottles in Garbage

Once the spring, mineral, purified, or distilled water is consumed, where does the single-use plastic bottle go?  Most of our plastic water bottles end up in our landfills and oceans.  We are learning now, too, that micro-plastic from our PET water bottles are ending up in our bodies. Are we becoming walking, talking water bottles?

This leads to my joyful habit change: replaced single-use plastic bottles with reusable bottles.

My family and I love boating and lake life.  We have owned a lake cabin and boat for 20 years and spend as many weekends as possible out on the lake.  Like most families, we’d stop at the grocery store and pick up a 24-pack or two of bottled water to last us through the weekend. At the end of each boating day, we’d gather all of the spent and barely used plastic water bottles (those that didn’t accidentally fly overboard into the lake) and throw them away.  Overtime, as we learned more about plastic pollution and its impact on climate change, we got better at separating the plastic water bottles from the rest of the trash and bagged them for recycling.  We felt good about that change.  But seeing the volume of our plastic trash did make us feel a bit guilty.


A couple of years ago, we purchased eight reusable and insulated water bottles that matched the colors of our boat — a nice addition.  
Reusable Bottles

Each weekend, instead of buying 24-48 single-use plastic bottles of water, we fill our insulated bottles with filtered water from our kitchen and enjoy them on the boat. We bring extra water in a gallon container to refill the bottles, if needed. The water tastes good and stays cold. No more wasting money on bottles of water barely consumed or trying to figure out whose water is whose. The amount of trash to remove from the boat has significantly decreased and we no longer haul a bunch of plastic trash to our city home for recycling.

I estimate that we consumed 1,000 to 1,200 PET plastic bottles of water each boating season.  When you multiply that by 20 years, it totals as much as 24,000 plastic water bottles! 

As a result of this simple and joyful habit change, we have reduced our contribution to plastic pollution by 3,600 single-use plastic bottles over the past three summers alone and we are only one family.  Also, as a mother I have lowered my frustration level over wasted money, barely consumed water bottles, and wrangling trash pick up after a long day of boating.

Simple changes by each of us can make a big difference especially when added together with others making the same change.  

If 10 more families made the switch to reusable bottles, we’d use 36,000 less single-use plastic bottles.  If 100 did the same, it would total 360,000.  If 1,000 families made the habit change, the reduction would total 3.6 million less plastic water bottles consumed.

What habit will you change to make a difference for you and the planet?

Amy Bates

OPL Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bates shares her experience in making simple habit changes to improve quality of life and protect the planet.

Learn more about Amy here.

International Day of Friendship

International Day of Friendship

Honestly, if someone told me at the beginning of 2020 that one of the most important days to celebrate this year would be the International Day of Friendship, I may have thought they watched a few too many Hallmark movies leading into the holidays. Please don’t misunderstand, I relish and rely on friendship in every sense of its meaning in my life.  Thanks to the uncertainties and challenges presented during the first half of 2020, however, my hope for greater friendship in the world and within my personal community has grown exponentially.

Around the world, people are dealing with major friendship challenges including: social distancing and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; heightened racial discord and political partisanship in the US; and, global impatience between countries and cultures.  As a result, the need for us all to take a pause to contemplate and celebrate friendship is of greater importance.

When the United Nations (UN) proclaimed the International Day of Friendship in 2011, they did so with the idea that, “friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities”. The UN considers friendship in its broadest definition and as “a shared spirit of human solidarity.” 

On this International Day of Friendship we have an opportunity to think about how we can increase our tolerance of differing points of views and cultures.  We can consider ways to reach out to our local and global communities with empathy and care to heal old and new wounds. Together, we can create positive momentum toward peace and mutual respect for the betterment of all.

Here are few ways we recommend you celebrate on this International Day of Friendship:

Reach out to friends near and far and let them know you are thinking of them. 

It’s amazing how quickly a simple text, email, or video call from a friend can elevate a person’s mood. 

Volunteer in your community to help a stranger in need. 

Whether you support your local food bank, deliver meals to seniors in need, or lend a hand to your neighbor, sharing kindness and love will leave you and your new friend feeling grateful.

Share and promote peace, tolerance, and equality.

At home, in your community, and across your social media channels celebrate and share friendship.  All of us at One Planet Life will do the same.  Join us on Instagram at #OPLFriendshipEveryday.

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