American Goldfinch, Seen in Penn’s Woods



Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.    (Psalm 68:13)


AMERICAN GOLDFINCH on thistle (Fredric D. Nisenholz / Birds & Blooms)

 The psalmist referred to a special dove having silver-covered wings, with feathers sporting yellow-gold highlights (literally, flight-feathers of greenish-gold).  What a beautiful dove that must be!  In America, however, there is a yellow-colored finch that we are more likely to see, the AMERICAN GOLDFINCH.  It too could be called greenish-gold, because its plumage varies seasonally, from lemon-yellow to a light olive-green.  Goldfinches are small passerines, monogamous (i.e., male-female couples permanently paired, as if married) gregarious (i.e., they travels and feed in flocks), and they migrate to and form the outer territories of their populational ranges — although they are year-round residents in much of their American range (see Wikipedia range map below: yellow for breeding-only, green for year-round residence, blue for over-wintering only). 


For me, the first time I saw one was on Friday, July 22nd AD2016, as I was driving a rent-car on a wood-flanked country road that paralleled the Susquehanna River, in Pennsylvania, near Exeter, where the next day I would speak at the Pennsylvania Keystone Family Bible Conference, in celebration of 60 years of IN GOD WE TRUST being our national motto.  Here is a quick limerick in honor and appreciation of the American Goldfinch.  (Speaking of our national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, it derives from THE STAR-SPANGELD BANNER, penned by attorney Francis Scott Key, during the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.)


Lemon-hued, they eat many seeds;

They’re social, so in flocks they feed;

Goldfinches migrate,

Each true, to its mate;

God provides for all goldfinch needs.


AMERICAN GOLDFINCH female, Virginia (Wikipedia / photograph)


Birdwatching the National Aviary – Tropical Forest

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) by Lee NA Feeding

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) by Lee NA Feeding

This article is about the numerous birds found in the Tropical Forest Free-flight section at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA. It has taken awhile to find the names of the birds in the pictures we took while we were there. My enthusiastically taken 600 photos has turned into a real challenge. That, and I do have a life.

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) at NA by Dan

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) at NA by Dan

The Tropical Forest section has some really interesting birds that I had read about or seen in photos. It was great to be able to get so close to the birds. About the time we arrived there, they were getting ready to do one of the feedings. This really brought the birds out of the trees. Some, the Common Starling, landed right on the bin with the food and started helping himself. My favorite bird there was the Hammerkop, who many got to feed by hand and a close second was the Blue Rollers. They seemed right personable. Of course, I enjoyed all of them and was thrilled to get to watch them.

Blue-bellied Roller (Coracias cyanogaster) at NA by Lee

Blue-bellied Roller (Coracias cyanogaster) by Lee

Probably one of the most colorful birds in the Tropical Forest was the Golden-breasted Starling who was nothing like the Common Starling above. The feathers are iridescent and just shine.

Golden-breasted Starling (Lamprotornis regius) at NA by Lee

Golden-breasted Starling (Lamprotornis regius) by Lee

I am adding a Slide collection of the birds in the Tropical Forest. They are not of everything, but the ones that turned out good enough to show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Birdwatching the National Aviary – Grasslands

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea)

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea)

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA is divided into different habitats. The National Aviary, they opened their Grassland exhibit in March of 2010 and here is their description of it. “Inhabiting the Grasslands exhibit are an array of delicate and colorful birds, including Gouldian finches, paradise whydah, Sudan golden sparrows, shaft-tail finches, melba finches, and blue ground doves. The exhibit’s plantscape comprises sea oats, bayberry, birch and dogwood as well as other greenery.”

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. (Psalms 147:7-9 ESV)

Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda) (Shaft-tailed) at NA by Dan

Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda) (Shaft-tailed) by Dan

Grasslands (also called greenswards) are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous (non-woody) plants. However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. In temperate latitudes, such as northwest Europe and the Great Plains and California in North America, native grasslands are dominated by perennial bunch grass species, whereas in warmer climates annual species form a greater component of the vegetation.

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass? (Job 38:25-27 ESV)

There are several types of Grasslands throughout the world. They are basically the: Tropical and subtropical grasslands, Temperate grasslands, Flooded grasslands, Montane grasslands and Desert and xeric grasslands. The Aviary has birds that represent these areas of the world.

Following is a list of the birds that we encountered in the Grasslands at the aviary:

From the Phasianidae – Pheasants, Fowl & Allies Family:

Crested Partridge (Rollulus rouloul) at NA by Lee

Crested Partridge (Rollulus rouloul) at NA by Lee

Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar)
Crested Partridge (Rollulus rouloul)

From the Charidridae – Plovers Family:

American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica) at NA by Lee

American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica) at NA by Lee

American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

From the Psittacidae – Parrots Family:

Grey Parrot by Dan

Grey Parrot by Dan

Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) (African Grey Parrot)

From the Columbidae – Pigeons, Doves Family:

Inca Dove (Columbina inca) at NA by Lee

Inca Dove (Columbina inca) at NA by Lee

Inca Dove (Columbina inca)

From the Muscicapidae – Chats, Old World Flycatchers Family

White-rumped Shama by Lee

White-rumped Shama by Lee

White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus)

From the Passeridae – Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches Family

Sudan Golden Sparrow by Dan

Sudan Golden Sparrow by Dan

Sudan Golden Sparrow (Passer luteus)

From the Estrididae – Waxbills, Munias & Allies Family:

Long-tailed Finch youngsters by Dan

Long-tailed Finch youngsters by Dan

Green-winged Pytilia (Pytilia melba) (Melba Finch)
Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda) (Shaft-tailed Finch)
Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae)

From the Viduidae – Indigobirds, Whydahs Family

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah by Dan

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah by Dan

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea) (Paradise Whydah)

From the Icteridae – Oropendolas, Orioles & Blackbirds Family

Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Amblyramphus holosericeus) by Lee

Scarlet-headed Blackbird asleep by Lee

Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Amblyramphus holosericeus)

From the Thraupidae – Tanagers and Allies Family

Saffron Finch by Dan

Saffron Finch by Dan

Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola)

I use the I.O.C.’s names, but they are the same birds. I have put the aviary’s name at the end, if it differs.

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psalms 50:11 ESV)

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) at NA by Lee

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) at NA by Lee

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! (Deuteronomy 32:1-3 ESV)

Green-winged Pytilia (Pytilia melba) (Melba Finch) at NA by Lee

Green-winged Pytilia (Pytilia melba) (Melba Finch) at NA by Lee “Proof”

Of David. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalms 37:1-5 ESV)

Crested Partridge (Rollulus rouloul) at NA by Lee M-F and Babies

Crested Partridge (Rollulus rouloul) at NA by Lee M-F and Babies

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth (Psalms 104:14 ESV)

Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar) at NA by Lee

Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar) at NA by Lee

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)

Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) at NA by Lee

Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) at NA by Lee

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30 ESV)

(Various quotes are from the Scripture, National Aviary website and Wikipedia. Some of the shots by me are just “proof shots”. They were taken to prove I saw the bird, and some didn’t come out well.)

National Aviary – Penguin Encounter

African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at NA by Lee

African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) by Dome at NA by Lee

The National Aviary’s Penguin Point area is home to Stanley, Elvis, Patrick, Simon, Sidney, Preston, Dotty, Kristen, TJ, and Rainbow. At least that is the names of the ones listed on the African Penguin page. We enjoyed taking pictures of them, but did not figure out who was who. The area has a dome that sticks up and you can make your way to it and look at the penguins up “close and personal.” Of course, I had to go check it out. Even caught Dan taking pictures of the penguins while I was inside looking out.

National Aviary Meet a patient - Jamie-Vet Tech with leg cast

Meet a patient – Jamie-Vet Tech with leg cast

They have several penguin feeding times during the day and a penguin talk – to learn more about the penguins. In the Penguin Point Vestibule they have a “Meet a Patient” talk by one of the “bird medical” staff. There you are told about one of the patients in their hospital. Jamie, the Veterinarian Technician was telling about one of the ducks. He showed a cast used for a broken leg. Unfortunately, we missed most of the talk and only got in on the last part of his presentation.

The African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus), which they have at the Aviary, are the only penguins that breed in Africa. They are also known as Black-footed Penguins. Their home is on the “south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with the largest colony on Dyer Island, near Kleinbaai. Because of their donkey-like braying call they were previously named Jackass Penguins. Since several species of South American penguins produce the same sound, the African species has been renamed African Penguin, as it is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa. The presence of the penguin gave name to the Penguin Islands.” (Wikipedia)

African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at NA by Lee

African Penguin from inside the dome at NA by Lee

African Penguins are 68-70 cm (26.7-27.5in) tall and weigh 2-5 kg or 4.4-11 lbs. “They have a black stripe and black spots on the chest, the pattern of spots being unique for every penguin, like human fingerprints. They have pink glands above their eyes. The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands so it may be cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink. The males are larger than the females and have larger beaks, but their beaks are more pointed than those of the Humboldt. Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage–white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the dark water.” (Wikipedia) Our Creator has provided a built-in air conditioner and protection for them.

I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. (Psalms 50:11 KJV)

At one time the African Penguin population had 1.5 million members, but because of threats such as egg gathering, or egg smashing, taking their burrowing material for fertilizer, oil spills and other threats, the number was only 10% of that by 2000. The natural predators include “sharks, cape fur seals and, on occasion, orcas. Land-based enemies include mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs – and the kelp gulls which steal their eggs and new born chicks. I don’t know for a fact, but their decline to a “vulnerable species” is probably why they are at the National Aviary and also the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida (we saw some there also). They are trying to protect and breed them.

How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end. (Jeremiah 12:4 KJV)

African Penguins are in the  Spheniscidae Family of the Sphenisciformes Order. They are the only family in the Order and have 19 species of penguins.

See Also:

Ian’s Bird of the Week – African Penguin

Interesting Things – Why Birds Don’t Wear Socks

Here are the pictures we took of the penguins at the National Aviary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Information from Wikipedia and National Aviary website.


(Spheniscus demersus)

Birdwatching at the National Aviary – Introduction

Fountain at National Aviary

Fountain at National Aviary

Dan and I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA two weeks ago. What a fantastic place. Waited until we were back home and could sort through our photos. I took over 600 in the 2 days we visited and not sure how many Dan took. (His are better, of course.)

National Aviary Hospital - Sarah the "Bird Nurse"

National Aviary Hospital – Sarah the “Bird Nurse”

We arrived early the day before and could not check in to the motel, so we had some time to look around. After lunch, we ended up in a bookstore, where we met, Sarah, the “Bird Nurse” at the National Aviary. When she found out we had come up there just to see the Aviary, she offered to show us things behind the scenes when we got there the next day. I was more excited that a child waiting for Christmas morning to arrive. Hardly slept that night. I praise the Lord for letting us meet up with her and know it was not just an “accident.”

By the time we arrived, the Director, Steven, had been informed about our visit and offered to show us around also. Thanks to all of the staff and volunteers there that made our visit so special. The National Aviary is definitely a “Must See” for birdwatchers.

It is hard to know where to begin, so I’ve decided to break our visit up into the different areas and do a blog on each one. This blog is an introduction to the National Aviary itself.

The history of the Aviary tells of its growth from a conservatory at an old Penitentiary site, with an Aviary added later. It was the first zoo to have free-flight rooms. In the 80’s they began focusing on “wildlife conservation through captive breeding of rare and endangered birds.” The 90’s saw the aviary closed, then re-open as a private nonprofit corporation. In 1992, “By declaration of the U.S. Congress, the Pittsburgh Aviary was designated honorary national status and renamed the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

Throughout the day they have various events going on, depending on the day of the week and weather or other conditions. We were able to take in the Wetlands Feeding and Rainstorm, Feed the Lories, FliteZone – Raptors and the Parrots (missed some of the birds due to an activity outside the aviary that was unsettling the birds), Tropical Forest Feeding, Meet a Patient, We missed some things, but got to see things others don’t get to see (more on that later).

Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) at NA by Dan

Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) at NA by Dan

The Aviary has over 600 birds from different parts of the world. See: Our Birds. Since I have worked with the Birds of the World here on this site, it was great to be able to see many of the birds in person that were just names and photos. Many, close-up!

When you arrive at the Aviary, you are welcomed by some sculptures, a fountain, and a Rose Garden. There were also some local birds hanging around like sparrows and pigeons. I am sure at other times of the year there are other avian visitors.

The Laughing Kookaburra was also outside to greet the visitors to the Aviary. One of the workers help me get a short clip of him laughing.

What a joy we had visiting! It was much more than I thought it would be.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7 KJV)

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38 NKJV)


Dan’s Photos so far on his Website – Dan’sPix

Happy Birthday-  Skippy at National Aviary

These photos are of some of the shows and the outside area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.