Archive for Birds
Why do Vultures Eat Dead Animals?
Vultures are often characterized as scary, Halloween-esque creatures. Their appetite for dead flesh doesn’t win them many fans. If you check the zoo’s Facebook page you’d be hard-pressed to find a “vulture selfie” or “save the vultures” post from any of our followers, but these birds aren’t as ghoulish as their reputation suggests.
International Vulture Awareness Day is this Saturday, September 6 – A day when conservationists and vulture aficionados bring attention to these misunderstood but important creatures.
Back to the question at hand…Why do vultures eat dead animals? The removal of carrion (a.k.a. rotting flesh) is a necessary link on the food chain. Vultures can eat rotting flesh that contains anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria with no ill effects because acids in the vulture’s stomach destroy these organisms, thereby removing them from our ecosystem.
At the zoo, the vultures eat a commercial meat diet, plus rats and small bones.
Have you ever met one of the zoo’s vultures? Vincent the turkey vulture lives in the Central Zoo across from the lemurs. He enjoys a morning rodent diet and he’s known for displaying his beautiful, black wingspan throughout the day. The African Journey is home to four Ruppell’s griffon vultures. You can find them on the Savannah where they’ll often perch near the pedestrian deck for a photo op!
Stop by and visit the vultures on your next zoo visit…and bring your questions. Our zoo keepers are happy to talk about these fascinating but misunderstood birds.
Click on the photos to enlarge:
For Your Zoo-to-Do List…
Maggie, a very friendly green-naped pheasant pigeon in Indonesian Rain Forest, experienced a life-changing event in August when she was introduced to Zazu, a male pheasant pigeon. Maggie and Zazu quickly became a pair, and recently welcomed a new baby!
Winter has been a busy time for Maggie and Zazu. They built a nest on the forest floor and took turns incubating their single egg. Now that their chick has hatched, both parents hunt for seeds, fruit, and insects to feed their chick.
Feeding a new baby bird is a tireless job, but all their work is paying off. The new chick is already half the size of its parents and will soon be foraging for food on its own.
Keepers are eager to learn the chick’s gender, but they’ll have to wait until they can catch it. The chick is always on the move and darts behind vegetation when approached. “The way we determine a pheasant pigeon’s sex is by doing a blood draw. We’re waiting until the baby gets a little older and more comfortable with the staff before we approach it,” says zoo keeper Tiffany Jones.
Green-naped pheasant pigeons are native to New Guinea and nearby islands, and they are considered endangered in parts of their range. Pheasant pigeons are non-flighted birds, but they can glide for short distances. The zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for these birds to manage breeding and maintain a genetically healthy zoo population.
Because she often strolled alongside the rain forest boardwalk, Maggie is well-known to zoo guests. We’ll see if she returns to her old habits this summer when her chick becomes independent. Visit Maggie and see if you can spot the new chick when the zoo opens for the season on April 26.
Click on the images below to enlarge:
Posted in: Baby Animals, Birds, Indonesian Rain Forest, Zoo News
There’s A New Bird in Town!
Meet Leonard, our newest resident in the Indonesian Rain Forest. Leonard is a crested wood partridge, or “roul roul” (short for his Latin name Rollulus rouloul). Born on May 16, 2013, he traveled to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo from Milwaukee. His diet includes a mix of corn and seeds similar to the items that a roul roul might forage from the forest floor. Although they can fly short distances, roul rouls spend the majority of their life in low-lying areas. In fact, roul roul chicks begin walking and foraging on their own just one week after they’re born!
The crested wood partridge is a near-threatened species. They nest and forage in the tropical rain forests and bamboo thickets of Southeast Asia, and their primary threat is habitat destruction. Here are some of the areas that the crested wood partridge calls home:
- Thailand (southern)
- Burma (southern)
Keep an eye out for Leonard when the zoo reopens this spring - you may be able to spot him strutting the forest floor in the Jungle Dome! Visit our Conservation page to learn more about the zoo’s commitment to saving wild animals and wild places.
Posted in: Birds, Indonesian Rain Forest
Where Do the Animals Go in the Winter?
At the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, we often hear the question, “Where do the animals go in the winter?” The answer is – They stay right here! The zoo is quieter since we closed for the season on October 13, but our animals and zoo keepers haven’t gone anywhere. Some animals spend the winter outdoors, some indoors, and many have the opportunity to do both. Here’s a list of where a few of our animals spend their fall and winter “vacation”:
Why do some of the animals stay in while others go out? According to African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson, it all depends on something called “access temperature”. The access temperature is the threshold that’s safe for a particular species. “Zoo keepers monitor the outdoor temperature to determine whether an animal can go outside”, states Eagleson. Access temperature varies considerably, even for animals from the same geographic region. For example, giraffes have an access temperature of 45 degrees. African birds can endure much lower temperatures. Eagleson states that “Ostriches have an access temp of zero degrees and for storks it’s five to ten degrees.”
The animals of the Indonesian Rain Forest also have a diverse range of access temperatures. According to Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar, primates venture outdoors as long as temperatures are above 40 degrees. The 40-degree threshold also applies to tigers. Says Dunbar, “Some of the animals have continuous access to the outdoors, and some go out on exhibit if the weather allows it.” The birds of the rain forest, however, spend the off-season inside the rain forest dome.
So although the zoo is closed for the season, the animals are still here…with the exception of one group. The horses and ponies spend the winter off-site at a family farm.
The animals of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will all be here and ready for opening day on April 26. Will you join us?
Beautiful Birds of Prey
Some of our most fascinating birds are a diverse group of feathered predators known as “birds of prey.” Owls, vultures, and hawks are part of this group.
These birds share some key features: sharp talons, a strong, hooked beak, and excellent eyesight. Some, like owls, can capture a mouse in complete darkness. Vultures can smell a dead animal from up to a mile away!
As top predators in their ecosystems, birds of prey face unique conservation challenges. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo supports the conservation efforts of the Peregrine Fund in Tanzania as they work to protect these amazing animals.
Meet the birds of prey exhibited at the zoo:
Posted in: African Animals, Birds
How to Train a Crane
For sheer beauty and elegance, few zoo birds rival the wattled cranes in the African Journey. You’d never guess that these seemingly peaceful birds have an aggressive streak.
“They will jab at you with their beak,” says Amber Eagleson, who manages the African Journey. “And there is some serious power in those legs – they will kick right at you.”
Wattled cranes stand four to five feet tall and are native to wetlands throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Our birds, Betty and Hannibal, are an established pair who produced their first clutch of eggs last year. Unfortunately, both eggs were crushed, probably by the cranes themselves as they moved around in their nest – not uncommon in first-time parents.
Because of the potential for injury, zoo keepers always work in pairs when entering the cranes’ marshy enclosure, which sits along the boardwalk near the African Journey’s exit. They also wear goggles for eye protection, and carry a broom to fend off the birds if they get aggressive.
Another tool used to manage the cranes is training. “The cranes are trained to station on a target,” like a colored board on a stick, Eagleson explains. “By rewarding them when they touch their beak to the target, we can move them to a different area of the exhibit.” This allows keepers to keep the cranes’ attention when crews are performing maintenance in the exhibit, for example. “It also allows us to see the birds up close and inspect their body condition,” Eagleson says. The cranes are rewarded for their participation with pinky mice.
Wattled crane populations are shrinking in Africa, due to destruction and alteration of wetlands.
Click on the photos below to view them full screen.
Betty and Hannibal reinforce their pair bond with unison calls – loud, shrill honks that are made with heads tilted back. They also perform an elaborate mating dance, jumping up and down with wings flapping while moving back and forth. “I see this nearly every day,” Eagleson says. Also, watch for nest-building activity this fall – eggs are usually laid in late August or early September in a huge grassy nest.
Perfect Plumage for a Penguin
If you’re a penguin, your feathers are super-important: they keep you warm in chilly waters, they keep your skin dry, and provide you with a snappy tuxedo-like outfit.
But once a year, it all falls apart – literally. During a one-to two-week period each year, all of a penguin’s feathers fall out. This process is called molting, and it causes dramatic changes in the zoo’s African black-footed penguin flock.
“Each of our 17 penguins molts on a different schedule,” says zoo keeper Kasey DeLucenay. “There is almost always someone in the process.”
Molting begins with each penguin increasing its weight by about 50% in just a few weeks. “A bird that weighs five pounds might gain more than two pounds,” DeLucenay says. The weight gain helps a penguin get through the molt – a time when it can’t swim and hunt for fish – without eating.
During the molt, the penguins look scruffy, with patches of fluffy feathers popping up in random spots. “The molt seems to start at the tail and work its way up the body,” DeLucenay says.
Eventually, the old plumage is replaced by a sleek new set of feather. In juveniles, the brown feathers are replaced by the black-and-white plumage of the adults. As a finishing touch, the penguins preen each feather by rubbing it with waterproofing oil, which is taken from a gland at the base of the tail.
Click the photos below to enlarge.
Bugs for Breakfast
Do you ever wonder what’s in your food? At the zoo, we need to know exactly what’s in the animals’ food. In fact, we analyze everything that our animals eat – including mealworms.
Mealworms are eaten by many animals including mongooses, bat-eared foxes, and Australian birds. It’s not the mealworms themselves, but what the mealworms have eaten that determines their nutritional value. “What the mealworms eat has a direct effect on animals that consume the mealworms,” says Brooke Stowell, zoo commissary supervisor.
Mealworms are a good source of protein, and are kept alive in the commissary until they are fed to animals. But mealworms don’t come with a nutrition label, so Stowell is varying the mealworms’ diet and testing their nutritional value. “We are testing the mealworms because we want them to be as nutritious as possible,” says Stowell.
Do the animals notice the difference? “Probably not,” says Stowell. “They just enjoy eating the mealworms!”
Testing mealworms may seem like an extreme measure, but it’s all part of our commitment to excellent animal health. Says Stowell, “We do this so our animals eat the very best food that will promote the very best health.”
Read about animal diets on our Animal Information Pages.
Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Posted in: Birds, Zoo News
Zoos Cooperate to Breed Australian Magpies
Four eggs from a pair of Australian magpies at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo traveled to the Toledo Zoo as part of a cooperative effort to raise chicks of this species, which is rare in zoos. Three of the eggs hatched.
“These chicks are the first to be hatched at a North American zoo in many years,” says animal curator Mark Weldon. Our pair is one of only three Australian magpie pairs living in North American zoos.Baby Animals, Birds
A Fluffy Frogmouth Chick!
On July 8, our tawny frogmouth pair hatched their second chick in two years! Mom Henson and dad Max are devoted parents, but without the help of zoo keepers, the little chick may not have arrived at all.
Using a remote video camera, keepers kept watch on the secretive, nocturnal birds to make sure they consistently sat on their egg to provide warmth and turned the egg occasionally. Unfortunately, midway through the nesting period, keepers saw that Henson and Max had stopped sitting on their egg – which could cause the developing chick to die if it became too cold. “We pulled the egg from the nest and put it in the incubator to keep it warm,” explains Australian Adventure zoo keeper Bethany Hickey. To encourage Max and Henson to stay on the nest, the real egg was replaced with a dummy egg. The birds eventually returned to the nest and “incubated” the dummy egg.
Once keepers were sure that Max and Henson were staying on the nest, the real egg was returned to them. They finished out the 30-day incubation, and the chick hatched on its own on July 8.
Tawny frogmouths, which are native to Australia, feed on frogs, mice, and insects in the wild. At the zoo, we give them mice and mealworms. “Max and Henson are feeding the baby pretty well,” says Hickey, “But we supplement twice a day with chopped mice dipped in Pedialyte.”
As a result of the TLC received from its parents and zoo keepers, the tawny frogmouth chick is strong, healthy, and growing fast. “One day last week, the chick’s weight went from 36 grams to 43 grams overnight,” Hickey says.
The tawny frogmouth chick still spends most of its time in the nest, which is near the entrance door of the Australia After Dark building. Because only seven chicks hatched nationwide last year and Henson and Max represent a new genetic line among captive tawny frogmouths, this little chick is important this unique species’ future in zoos.
Click on the photos below to enlarge.