Birds

Bird fostering: How zoos pull out all the stops to save animals from extinction

Dallas Zoo Assistant Supervisor Marcie Herry gives San Antonio Zoo Senior Keeper Serenity Hyland one of two kori bustard eggs to be raised by the San Antonio Zoo.

What does it take to ensure the survival of a genetically valuable bird? Sometimes it means flying halfway across the country to pick up an egg and bring it back to Dallas to be fostered by a different set of parents.

This temperature controlled container was used to safely transfer the egg to the San Antonio Zoo

That was the case this spring bird season when a lappet-faced vulture egg was laid by a mom at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. The mom, unfortunately, didn’t have the best track record caring for her young. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has a great set of lappet-faced vulture parents that could act as foster parents—yes, there are foster parents even in the animal kingdom!

Fostering like this and even hand-rearing are options that Association of Zoos & Aquariums institutions have to consider for new births or hatchings to conserve and save wildlife.

The lappet-faced vulture hatching is just one example of the decisions the Dallas Zoo deals with every spring with 700-plus birds on grounds, spanning more than 100 different species—many of which are endangered, declining, or near threatened.

When the parents aren’t available, sometimes zookeepers step in as the foster parents, like with a new kori bustard hatchling this spring. We’re hand-rearing one of these, and another two kori bustard eggs were picked up by the San Antonio Zoo, where they have the space and manpower to raise these chicks.

Eggs sit in an incubator at the Dallas Zoo

In other instances, zoos even cross-foster between similar species if the same species is not an option. For example, a lappet-faced vulture chick may be reared by a white-backed vulture and vice versa. This is done very carefully, and only in the right circumstances.

Regardless of what it takes to ensure a chick’s survival, the Dallas Zoo and other AZA-accredited zoos are doing everything it takes—from hand-rearing to fostering internally or even delivering eggs and chicks to zoos hundreds of miles away—to save animals from extinction.

The next time you peer out into the flamingo pond and see a unique species of bird, remember—it might have been raised by mom and dad, or it may have taken a different path, like being raised by humans, foster parents, or even a different species altogether.

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Earth Action Team leads whooping success in Corpus Christi

The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park

The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park.

The Dallas Zoo works with partners around the world to save wildlife and protect wild spaces, but a major effort recently happened closer to home with some important Texas neighbors.

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team trekked south to Corpus Christi to restore coastal habitats in support of whooping crane conservation.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and migrates each year from central Canada to the Texas coast for the winter. The Dallas Zoo group dug in and got their hands dirty during a clean-up to help wildlife and their vital ecosystems.

The Wild Earth Action Team also took a four-hour adventure through the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the whooping crane’s winter grounds and observing 14 of these elegant birds. They even witnessed a rare moment when a whooping crane pair caught a snake and fed it to their young.

“It was thrilling to see whooping cranes up close,” said volunteer Becca Dyer. “I learned so much from the naturalists on the trip. I felt I was taking positive action participating in the beach cleanup.”

Removing litter from Corpus Christi's North Beach

Removing litter from Corpus Christi’s North Beach.

The entire experience was incredible for the team since this species once was so close to the brink of extinction. Our team of 23 volunteers and staff removed nearly 200 pounds of micro-litter along North Beach, including roughly 1,000 cigarette butts. Litter removal plays a key role in improving water quality and restoring coastal wetlands where many of the whooping crane’s food sources reside.

By the mid-1940s, only 15 whooping cranes existed in the wild. While still categorized as an endangered species, roughly 600 birds exist today due to the continued advocacy of conservation heroes across the United States.

“It made me feel overwhelmed with inspiration and gratitude for the conservation champions who went before us and stood up to save these cranes – all the work, the study, the policy advocacy, the habitat restoration and protection, the propagation and reintroduction by zoos and other conservation organizations – everything it takes to save animals from extinction,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and trip co-leader.

Volunteers enjoy a visit to Dyers Aquarium

Volunteers Elizabeth Clay and Paul and Becca Dyer enjoy a visit to the Texas State Aquarium.

The weekend was filled with engaging learning opportunities as well. Alex Gilly, a bird keeper at the zoo, provided a fantastic presentation on the world’s 15 crane species as well as our role in crane conservation. The team was given a behind-the-scenes look at the Texas State Aquarium rehabilitation facilities, where they met an array of aquatic life and learned their unique stories. Dr. Liz Smith, the International Crane Foundation’s whooping crane biologist and Texas program director, even spoke to the group, providing an update on whooping crane preservation and efforts to combat the effects of climate change on coastal   wetlands.

All and all, the weekend stands as a whooping success for our Wild Earth Action Team as they extended the Zoo’s vision of creating a better world for animals. Still, it’s important to remember that conservation is a joint endeavor that requires dedication to produce results. It all starts with taking actions, no matter how small, and making sustainable changes.

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot.

“Much of our conservation field efforts are done by volunteers who are a part of our Wild Earth Action Team,” said Julie Bates, director of Volunteers and trip co-leader. “This is a movement of volunteers that have a passion for nature and wildlife. The time and energy this team gives is priceless. Locally and across the state, we are creating a better world for animals by planting trees, restoring wildlife habitat, and cleaning beaches. We would love to have you join us on our next adventure!”

Stay tuned for more information about our next Wild Earth Action Team expedition when we travel to South Padre Island June 23–25 and work on Saving Sea Turtles.

 

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Education, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Animals visit brave patients at Children’s Health

 

The Dallas Zoo’s wonderful partnership with Children’s Health, one of the top pediatric health care providers in the nation, allows us to take patients’ minds off of the treatment they’re undergoing. Through the Simmons Animal Safari program, we’ve traveled to the hospital _MG_8354since 2014 for magical up-close animal encounters.

The Zoo recently paid a visit to Children’s Health with animal ambassadors who brought the smiles, including an opossum, a tamandua (also known as a lesser anteater), and an African crested porcupine with giant quills. Patients and their families sat eagerly, waving animal-themed masks as they waited to meet each new creature. As the Zoo’s Animal Adventures outreach team shared trivia and engaged with the kids, even hospital staff paused to see the show.

Engrossed in the moment, the kids animatedly shouted answers and shifted in their seats to see who they would meet next. The room came alive with excitement, spreading smiles from face to face as each animal ambassador said hello.

As penguin duo Sid and Jazz waddled into the spotlight, the room collectively gasped in delight, thrilled to meet two of our most beloved _MG_8383ambassadors. The kids enthusiastically asked questions as they learned about the Zoo’s African penguins. At the end of the presentation, patients and their families had the opportunity to take a photo with Sid or Jazz, capturing this moment forever.

As these brave families said their goodbyes to the animal ambassadors, we gifted them with one more surprise – each family was given tickets to the Zoo, including the patients who couldn’t make it down to meet us. We look forward to many future visits to Children’s Health, bringing enjoyment to these extraordinary kids and their families with each animal encounter.

Categories: Education, Penguins | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Nests 101: Building a home out of ANYTHING

IMG_2819 Wattled Crane on nest CS

Bird keeper Eric Lutomski guest blogs on ZooHoo!

IMG_8272-GoldenTaveta Weaver-CBEveryone knows birds build nests, but not everyone realizes just how many different kinds of nests there are! Nests can be as small as a teacup or as large as a dinner table and can be plainly out in the open or carefully hidden away.

Nests are constructed from all sorts of materials like carefully woven fibers or large tree limbs. Sometimes birds use even unusual materials, like saliva for glue or spider webs for camouflage. Many birds don’t make nests out of anything at all—their eggs are instead laid in burrows underground, inside a hollow tree or log, or even on a well-shaped ledge of rock.

Here at the Dallas Zoo, letting birds build their nests is a very enriching and stimulating experience. It lets the birds perform their natural behaviors like location selection, material gathering, and nest construction.

_MG_1200-Spoonbill chick and mom-CBIn many species, building the nest is part of courtship between males and females and is important for breeding success. Ideally, all birds at the Zoo would be able to build their own nest, but sometimes they get a bit of help from the zookeepers.  It can be anything from extra grass or sticks to mesh platforms for support structures.  We want to ensure that eggs or chicks don’t fall out of the nests.

Large birds like vultures, eagles and storks don’t like to nest on the ground, so keepers provide them with elevated platforms and lots of sticks of many shapes and sizes that the birds can weave together to form their nests.

Songbirds and other small birds, like jays and pigeons, prefer their nests to be bowl shaped.

Many birds like hornbills, lorikeets and cranes nest in tree cavities or other secluded locations like burrows or tall grasses, so keepers provide boxes for them so they can nest in privacy.

So next time you visit the Zoo, take a careful look! Is there a nest hiding in any of the exhibits? Where are they? What birds might be using them? Remember that you can take this knowledge home with you and build your own nest box for the birds in your neighborhood. (Bird Houses are nest boxes, too!)

Categories: Birds, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Never too late to learn: Spectacled owl becomes Zoo’s newest ambassador

_MG_2366-Talum spectacled owl in public

Jeremy Proffitt, manager of applied behavior and animal welfare, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

_MG_2407-Talum spectacled owlTulum is a special bird that much of the public has never met, but not for long. This spectacled owl is proof that it’s never too late to learn because she’s one of the Zoo’s newest ambassador animals meeting guests in the park.

Tulum is a healthy 25-year-old that’s unable to fly due to an injury as a young owl. In the past, she was skittish around people and the equipment used to handle her. A new behavior plan was developed to build her comfortability with people and confidence in her surroundings.

Keeper Amanda Barr started the process months ago getting Tulum comfortable around her. Amanda’s calm demeanor and patience benefitted Tulum, even in the early days of working together.

Amanda transferred to another section and bird keeper Alex Gilly soon took on the project with open arms. She worked patiently and diligently building a trusting relationship with Tulum that would be paramount to the rest of the training.

With a trusting relationship established, Alex worked daily to introduce the glove, touch Tulum with it, and offer her food from it. Eventually Tulum was asked to stand on the glove, which would allow her to be carried into the park.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Alex’s next big step was walking Tulum out of her behind-the-scenes home. The training plan and relationship the keepers built shined through and allowed Tulum to see more of her world.

You might see her out-and-about near Wings of Wonder educating guests. Stop by and say hello!

Tulum’s interactions in the park are short right now, but they will become longer as this remarkable bird becomes more comfortable. Thanks to patient keepers and a special behavior plan, this great little owl gets to broaden her world, and guests get to meet an amazing animal.

The Dallas Zoo has a new little ambassador and she’s ready to meet her world.

Categories: Birds | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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