Our Birds

African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus

FUN FACT

African Grey Parrots are highly intelligent and are considered by many to be perhaps the most intelligent parrot species. American scientist Irene Pepperberg’s work with “Alex” the African Grey Parrot showed his ability to learn more than 100 words and to differentiate objects, colors, materials, and shapes!

African Grey Parrots, a medium-sized parrot native to the forests of central Africa, are some of the best mimics in the bird world. In the wild, this species often copies the sounds of other animals in the forest. Around people, they may learn to copy a variety of sounds including laughter, a phone ringing, whistling, human speech, and many other sounds. Two African Grey Parrots roosting in Zaire were reported by researchers to have a repertoire of over 200 different sounds, including nine imitations of other wild bird songs and even one of a bat! This species is widely believed the be one of the most intelligent bird species. African Greys can live to be 60 years old. While their charismatic personalities and mimicry make them popular, they can be very challenging to keep as pets. This species is vulnerable to the illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss and destruction.

African Grey Parrot

Psittacus erithacus
Afrotropical

Habitat

Lowland primary and secondary forest, forest edges, forest fragments, and forest clearings, gallery forest, savanna woodland, farms, plantations, and mangroves

Diet

Fruits, seeds, nuts, and leaves

Status

Endangered

Breeding

African Grey Parrots are monogamous and not much is known of their courtship displays in the wild. They make their nests in hollow tree cavities and generally lay between 1 and 4 white eggs. The eggs take approximately 28 days to hatch and the young birds remain with their parents for 4 months or more.

African Penguin Spheniscus demersus

FUN FACT

The pink markings around an African Penguins’ eyes are glands that help them to regulate their body temperature and stay cool.

African Penguins are native to the southwestern coast of Africa, and are one of the 18 species of penguins found throughout the Southern Hemisphere. They are also among the smallest penguins, standing about 18 inches tall and weighing 6 to 10 pounds. They are a temperate species comfortable in a wide range of temperatures, making them well-suited for life in Penguin Point at the National Aviary. African Penguins can’t fly, but they are extremely agile swimmers. They use their wings like paddles and their webbed feet like flippers to propel themselves through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour! Sadly, this species faces many challenges, like overfishing and human encroachment on nesting grounds, and could be extinct in the wild in as little as 10 years.

African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus
Afrotropical
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Habitat

Warm coastal beaches

Diet

Fish and squid

Status

Endangered

Breeding

African Penguins nest in caves, laying two eggs per season. Eggs incubate for 38 days and both parents share incubation duties.

African Pygmy-falcon Polihierax semitorquatus

FUN FACT

The African Pygmy-falcon is the smallest raptor on the continent.

The African Pygmy-falcon is found in two disjunct populations in eastern and southern Africa where it is the smallest raptor on the continent. This tiny falcon occupies arid and semi-arid thornbrush, scrub, savanna, and steppe with sparse ground cover and scattered large trees. The pygmy-falcon consumes mainly small lizards and large insects, but will also prey on the communally-nesting weaver birds and their chicks, where pygmy-falcons will usurp one of the multichambered nests for their own use. This species performs a courtship display involving loud repetitive calling, head-bobbing and bowing displays, with tail pumping, which increase prior to nesting. The African Pygmy-falcon is not currently considered to be threatened.

African Pygmy-falcon

Polihierax semitorquatus
Afrotropical

Habitat

Arid and semi-arid thornbrush, scrub, savanna, and steppe with sparse ground cover and scattered large trees or tree-like aloe plants

Diet

Mainly small lizards and large insects, but also some rodents and birds, including host weavers and chicks living in the communal nest surrounding the chamber that they have usurped for their own.

Status

Least concern

Breeding

African Pygmy-flacon pairs occupy nest chambers of Sociable Weavers (in southern Africa) or Buffalo Weavers (in northeastern Africa), laying 2–4 (usually 3) eggs that are incubated for 27–31 days. Young fledge at 30 days but remain in parental territory for up to 2 months after fledging.

African Pygmy-Goose Nettapus auritus

FUN FACT

The African Pygmy-goose is the smallest species of waterfowl in the world. It weighs only a little more than a half a pound!

Weighing just over half a pound, the African Pygmy-goose is the smallest species of waterfowl in the world! This goose inhabits swamps, marshes, shallow freshwater lakes, and slow-flowing rivers in Africa which have abundant aquatic vegetation. Here it feeds primarily on seeds, leaves, and flowers of various aquatic plants, and nests in a variety of situations. The African pygmy-goose is not globally threatened, but populations are adversely affected by introduced fish, like tilapia, and by the invasive aquatic water hyacinth, which tends to take over waterways.

African Pygmy-Goose

Nettapus auritus
Afrotropical

Habitat

Swamps, marshes, shallow freshwater lakes and slow-flowing rivers with abundant aquatic vegetation, especially water lilies

Diet

Seeds, leaves, and flowers of various aquatic plants; also aquatic invertebrates and, rarely, small fish

Status

Least concern

Breeding

The African Pygmy-goose nests in tree holes (e.g., old woodpecker and barbet holes) in or near standing water and sometimes in old Hamerkop nests, thatched rooves, crowns of palm tree and in holes in cliffs. Females incubate 6-12 eggs for 3-4 weeks.

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos

FUN FACT 

Crows are very intelligent and capable of recognizing individual humans by their facial features. They are known to attack or scold individuals who have disturbed them in the past; they also are known to give things (found tokens) to people who have helped them.

Common throughout North America, the American Crow occurs in a wide range of habitats from rural farmland to suburban and urban commercial and residential. This species requires little more than large trees for roosting and nesting, and open ground for foraging. Much of the success of the crow lies in its highly varied and flexible diet which may include fruits, nuts, and seeds, insects and other invertebrates, small vertebrates of many kinds, carrion, and even human food scraps. A member of the Corvid family, American Crows are known for their intelligence and cunning. Young have been observed playing with objects they find on the ground and “log-rolling”: running atop an object like an empty cup or soda can. Their nest is a large stick nest high in a tree. The American Crow is not of conservation concern.

American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos
Nearctic

Habitat

Occupies a wide range of habitats from rural farmland to suburban and urban commercial and residential. Needs little more than large trees for roosting and nesting and open ground for foraging

Diet

Highly varied diet including fruits, nuts, and seeds, insects and other invertebrates, small vertebrates of many kinds, carrion and human food scraps

Status

Least concern

Breeding

The American Crow builds a large stick nest well-hidden about 10-20 meters up in the crotch or on a horizontal limb in the upper third of a tree, usually an evergreen tree. The female lays 4-5 eggs and incubates them alone for 16-19 days. The young are initially fed by the male, and often 3-4 helpers. Young fledge after 30 days; parents continue to feed their young for another 1-2 months.

American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber

FUN FACT

Have you ever seen a flamingo stand on one leg? It may look like their leg is bending backwards, but they are actually bending their ankle! A flamingo’s knee is higher up on the leg, close to the body.

American Flamingos have brilliant feathers that range from pale pink to a deep scarlet red, and get their coloring from the microscopic shrimp and algae in their diet. The depth of their pigmentation indicates how well a flamingo was eating as its feathers grew. Their long necks and legs allow them to wade and forage in water several feet deep. They use their curved bill to strain plankton and other small invertebrates from the water.

American Flamingo

Phoenicopterus ruber
Neotropical
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Habitat

Shallow, salty lagoons and lakes

Diet

Small invertebrates and algae

Status

Least concern

Breeding

This species builds conical mud nests and lay a single egg, which they incubate for 30 days.

American Kestrel Falco sparverius

FUN FACT

American Kestrels can see ultraviolet colors invisible to the human eye, and this may help them to detect mice and voles, which leave UV-reflective urine markings near their nests and burrows.

A small raptor with a widespread distribution throughout much of the Americas, the American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. Kestrels are the smallest North American raptor, and one of only three species in which the male and female are differently colored. This species occurs in open and semi-open habitats, including grasslands hayfields, and crop fields, as well as early old-field successional habitats. The kestrel has also become adapted to both suburban and urban settings in many areas. This species feeds on small mammals, insects, and small birds, and is an obligate secondary cavity nester; the kestrel uses natural cavities in trees or cavities previously excavated by woodpeckers for nesting. It will also make use of artificial nestboxes. The primary conservation challenge for the American Kestrel is the loss of open grassland habitat due to urbanization; however, the species has shown an ability to adapt to some anthropogenic habitats.

American Kestrel

Falco sparverius
Nearctic Neotropical

Habitat

Open and semi-open habitats, including meadows, hayfields, crop fields, reclaimed grasslands, and early old-field successional habitats; recently, has adapted to both suburban and urban settings, using, e.g., old abandoned brownfield industrial sites

Diet

Small mammals, insects, small birds; known to cache (store) partially uneaten prey

Status

Least concern

Breeding

An obligate secondary cavity nester, American Kestrels use woodpecker-excavated and natural cavities in trees, nest boxes, and abandoned buildings for nesting. They prefer cavities in the open, not obstructed by overhanging branches. A clutch of 4-5 eggs is incubated for 30 days, which is about how long the young remain in the nest. Young may return to nest cavity to roost; and remain dependent on their parents for food for up to two weeks after flegding.

Andean Cock-of-the-rock Rupicola peruvianus

FUN FACT

This spectacularly colored bird is the national bird of Peru.

This spectacular bird, with its bright orange fan-shaped crest, is a resident of montane cloud forest, especially in ravines and along streams, in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela to Bolivia. The Andean Cock-of-the-rock feeds on fruits, large insects, and small vertebrates, and builds a nest mainly of mud lined with coarse vegetable fibers and attached to a rock face. This is a lekking species, with males performing elaborate ritual displays at a communal site where the females determine the winner. Males display in pairs, with each male perched 4–6 meters above the ground. Each bird performs ritualized bowing and head-bobbing displays towards the other, with much jumping, wing-flapping, bill-snapping and calling; displaying intensifies when females approach. The Andean Cock-of-the-rock is not globally threatened, but it is very localized in its distribution.

Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Rupicola peruvianus
Neotropical

Habitat

Montane forest, especially in ravines and along streams

Diet

Fruits, large insects, and small vertebrates, the latter especially to feed to its young

Status

Least concern

Breeding

Males display at a communal lek, and groups of nests are often relatively close together. The nest is a truncated cone-shaped construction of mud, affixed to the rock face. The clutch size is 2 eggs; incubation period is 28 days; fledging occurs after 42-48 days.

Andean Condor Vultur gryphus

FUN FACT

Researchers used special monitoring devices to study Andean Condor flight. One Andean Condor was observed gliding for over five hours without flapping its wings once.

Andean Condors are among the largest flying birds, with a body weight of up to 30 pounds and a wingspan of over 10 feet. They are mostly black with large white patches on their wings and the distinctive bald head for which vultures are known. Condors have no feathers on their heads which facilitates cleaning after they have been feeding on carrion (after a meal, condors can frequently be seen wiping their heads on the ground to clean themselves off). Their diet primarily includes large land mammals, but condors have been seen feeding on the carcasses of seals and whales near the coast. Andean Condors may travel 150 miles a day in search of food and they often feed in groups. As scavengers, Andean Condors act as a natural clean-up crew, eating dead animals before they become a health risk to humans. In addition, the direct exposure of their skin to the disinfecting properties of ultraviolet light helps eliminate any residual bacteria. The Andean Condor is the only New World vulture that shows obvious differences between males and females. Males have dark eyes and a fleshy crest on their heads, while females have bright red eyes and lack the crest. Andean Condors may live 50 years or more.

Although they are long-lived, Andean Condors reproduce slowly and are vulnerable to human persecution, including both intentional and secondary poisoning. Since 1989, over 60 of these spectacular birds have hatched in U.S. zoos, and some have been released in the remote regions of the Colombia, including a male chick named Kendall hatched at the National Aviary in 2003. A female chick named Kachina, hatched at the Aviary in 2007, is currently part of a breeding program at another zoo to help the species’ population grow. The National Aviary currently is partnering with Bioparque Amaru, a zoo in Ecuador, where the population has dwindled to about 25 pairs of adult breeding birds and fewer than 100 condors in all. The National Aviary provides help with the rehabilitation of injured wild condors and through future releases into the wild of Andean Condor chicks hatched at the National Aviary.

Andean Condor

Vultur gryphus
Neotropical

Habitat

High mountains, including highest peaks (to 5000 m or higher); over open grassland and alpine regions, away from human disturbance and where carrion can be found: rare in forested areas. Also lowland desert regions in Peru and Chile to forage along the shoreline.

Diet

Mostly the carcasses of large land mammals; may also feed on seals and whales

Status

Near threatened

Breeding

Andean Condors form lifelong pair bonds and build a simple nest on a cliff ledge or in a shallow cave. They usually lay just a single egg and generally reproduce only every other year. Juveniles remain with their parents for two years until being displaced by the next generation; they do not acquire full adult plumage or breed until they are about 8 years old.

Atlantic Canary Serinus canaria domestica

FUN FACT

There are over 200 breeds of canary. Canaries have been bred for color, song type, and form. Most canaries sold in pet stores are not of any specific breed, and are often called ‘common canaries’.

When most of us think of the canary, we think of a cheerful, bright yellow bird in a decorative cage. In reality, this common canary (Serinus canaria domestica) is the domesticated cousin of the “true” Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria), native to the Canary Islands just off the northwest coast of Africa.

Spanish sailors first brought the canary to Europe in 1478, where it was prized among those wealthy enough to afford one for the male canary’s silvery, twittering song. The brilliant yellow color that we associate with modern domestic canaries is the result of a genetic mutation that suppresses the melanin in the birds’ feathers, effectively “erasing” the dark banding and streaking found on wild birds. For the next century, the Spaniards controlled availability of canaries by only selling male birds to the rest of Europe. When a shipping accident in the 16th Century allowed a shipment of the birds to escape to Elba Island in the Tuscan Archipelago, the Italians were quick to take advantage of the situation. Soon canaries were being bred and sold all over the world outside of Spanish control.

The ready availability of domestic canaries made them ideal candidates when, in the late 1890’s, pioneering physiologist John Scott Haldane recommended the use of small, warm-blooded animals as “sentinels” for the build-up of toxic gases in coal mines. A build-up of toxic gases following “firedamp” and coal dust explosions was known to be what killed most miners, but reliable gas detectors were hard to come by. The flame of a “safety lamp” could be used to detect rising levels of methane and “chokedamp” (a combination of gaseous nitrogen and carbon dioxide), but no mechanical means of measuring carbon monoxide existed. With their small body size and faster metabolism, animals such as mice and canaries would succumb to a build-up of carbon monoxide more quickly than a human. Canaries came to be preferred over mice because the birds more visibly demonstrated signs of distress in the presence of even small quantities of carbon monoxide gas. This few minutes of warning gave miners time to put on protective gas masks, or even to leave the mines entirely. In their capacity as sentinels, canaries saved the lives of thousands of miners during the nearly 100 years they were in use. Today, we still use the phrase “the canary in a coal mine” when we talk about species who are biological indicators for the health of an ecosystem – species who, like the canary for the miners, begin to suffer and die as an early sign that something is wrong. Changes in the function, health, or population of these indicator species can reveal such things as the accumulation of pollutants (lamp shell brachiopods), changes in overall air quality (milkweed and some strains of white pine are sensitive to ozone), and the threat of rising ocean temperatures (corals and marine fishes worldwide).

Atlantic Canary

Serinus canaria domestica
Afrotropical

Habitat

A wide variety of habitats from forests to sand dunes and frequently is found in parks and gardens

Diet

Mixed seeds and fresh greens

Status

Least concern

Breeding

Wild Canaries lay two or three clutches of 3-5 speckled light blue eggs each year. Domestic Canaries are usually housed in pairs to control the genetics of resulting offspring. Females begin laying when exposed to at last 12 hours of daylight -- something which can happen naturally, or be artificially induced with selective lighting. The female lays 4-5 eggs on successive days, and incubates for two weeks. During that time, she never leaves the nest, and depends on her mate to bring her food. Chicks leave the nest about 18 days after hatching, and the parents continue to feed them for up to a week afterward.

Augur Buzzard Buteo augur

FUN FACT

Augur Buzzards are closely related to the Red-tailed Hawks that are native to Pennsylvania.

Augur Buzzards are one of the most numerous types of hawks in Africa. In the Americas, the term “buzzard” generally refers to vultures, but in the Old World, the word’s original meaning was “hawk”. Augur Buzzards are members of the Buteo genus, a group of hawks found all over the world and known for their broad wings, relatively short tails, and the ability to soar for long periods of time. Like all hawks, Augur Buzzards are strict carnivores and actively hunt a variety of animals, particularly reptiles. Augur Buzzards come in two color phases — dark and light. Dark individuals are uniformly chocolate brown, while light phase birds have a dark hood and back with a bright white chest and stomach. Both color phases have a rusty, brick-red tail, yellow legs, and dark eyes.

Augur Buzzard

Buteo augur
Afrotropical

Habitat

Mountainous or hilly country covered in a patchwork of forest, open woodland, savanna, and grassland; occasionally also hunts over desert

Diet

Primarily reptiles, some small mammals and birds

Status

Least concern

Breeding

Pairs of Augur Buzzards are monogamous during the breeding season, and pairs may remain together for years. They build their nests on cliffs or in sturdy trees and lay 1-3 eggs. The adults begin incubating immediately after the first egg is laid, meaning the first egg hatches several days before the second. This results in chicks of varying ages and sizes, the largest of which will out-compete the smaller chicks. Typically, only one chick per nest survives.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

FUN FACT

Bald Eagles are some of the largest birds in North America. Bald Eagles from the northern portions of their range are larger than individuals in the southern limits of their range. Like most raptors, females may be up to 30% larger than males.  Overall, the species ranges in size from a 5.5 foot wingspan up to a nearly 8 foot wingspan depending on the sex and origin of the bird.

The Bald Eagle is one of the most readily recognizable birds in North America. They are also one of the largest, with the biggest females reaching 13 pounds or more. And, since 1782, the Bald Eagle has been the national bird of the United States. Bald Eagles are also 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 only an estimated 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. There are more than 200 known breeding pairs in Pennsylvania, including two nests in the greater Pittsburgh area, at the Hulton Bridge in Harmar and the Keystone Iron & Metal in Hays.

The Bald Eagles at the National Aviary sustained injuries in the wild that would limit their chances of survival in the wild. They have a comfortable home at the National Aviary where their every need is met, and they serve as ambassadors for their species.

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Nearctic

Habitat

Typically found near large bodies of water, including shorelines and coastlines, and usually near wooded areas; also utilizes open agricultural fields and marshes

Diet

Opportunistic foragers, eating a variety of live fish, bird, and mammal prey; fish stolen from other piscivores (animal that eats fish); scavanged fish and mammals

Status

Least concern

Breeding

Bald Eagle pairs together build among the largest of all bird nests, usually in the main fork of a tree, but also on the ground and on cliff ledges in treeless areas.

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