Birds

Celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day at the Dallas Zoo

Help us #SaveOurScavengers

 

Known as “nature’s clean-up crew,” vultures have a pretty dirty job. But they play such a vital role in their ecosystems, and they help out humans too! Unlike other birds of prey vultures are scavengers, which means they eat carrion (aka, dead animals). This helps prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies, anthrax, cholera, botulism, and tuberculosis, which can often be found in those animal carcasses.

What a thankless job. Luckily, vultures are equipped with adaptations that help them thrive in this role.

  • Vultures’ highly acidic stomach acid and super strong immune system allow them to eat decaying and potentially infectious meat that would make most other animals sick.
  • Some vulture species rely on keen eyesight to locate their food; others rely on their keen sense of smell to search out hidden carcasses by detecting gasses that are released during decomposition.
  • Vultures will vomit up semi-digested food to ward off predators, or to help lighten their weight if they need to escape from a predator quickly.
  • Many species of vultures have bald heads – there is speculation that this helps them stay clean, but this may also help them with temperature regulation.

Unfortunately, these amazing birds are under siege when it comes to survival.

  • 16 of the 23 vulture species in the world are considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.
  • Vultures have been disappearing from Africa at an alarming pace over the last 30 years, having declined between 62-95% across the continent.
  • Globally, vultures are the most endangered group of birds.

Vultures are being poisoned by the thousands, especially in Africa and Asia; sometimes indirectly by farmers who poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses, and die as a result. More alarming is that poachers have begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of poached animals to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities.

Which is why the first Saturday of September is now known as International Vulture Awareness Day, to help raise awareness about vultures and the conservation issues they face around the world.

Vultures at the Dallas Zoo

We love our vultures here at the Dallas Zoo! We care for eight different species, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.

You may have seen our black vulture, Baldwin, strut his stuff on the Wild Encounters Stage. Baldwin has been making our guests fall in love with vultures since 2016, when he came to us from a local rehabilitation facility. Fittingly enough, his third birthday falls on International Vulture Awareness Day this year.

“We love introducing Baldwin to our guests!” says Robin Ryan, Supervisor of Animal Encounters. “He has such charisma and personality, which I think can inspire people to see vultures in a more positive way.”

We’re also celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day throughout the weekend, during our special Member Mornings events this Saturday and Sunday. Members can join us for a private Vulture Keeper Chat both days at 8:30 a.m. in front of the vulture habitat, and we’ll have special vulture-themed arts & crafts projects.

We hope you’ll join us in wishing Baldwin the happiest of birthdays. And use International Vulture Awareness Day as your incentive to help us change this species’ reputation – toss out some of the fun facts above and tell others about these crazy-cool birds.

Not a member? Click here for more information, and to join today!

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

Spring season springs new chicks

With every spring comes another busy breeding season for Dallas Zoo’s bird team. This year, we’ve had success after success in breeding remarkable, threatened animals. The hatchlings are very carefully planned under recommendations from the Species Survival Plans, coordinated through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to help ensure the survival of threatened and endangered species. Here are our most recent chicks we’ve welcomed:

African penguins: We’ve had three hatch this spring! Jakada (male) hatched Feb. 26, Zebib (female) on March 5, and another on April 24 (still hasn’t been named yet). You may have seen Jakada’s and Zebib’s first swim recently. We’re now giving them pool time in their habitats for brief periods in the day, and will continue introducing them to the rest of the flock. Stop by their pool in the Wilds of Africa to catch a glimpse of these adorable chicks! (Our last chick to hatch will join the flock in the pool in late July).

Jakada and Zebib shortly after their hatchings.

The April 24 chick after its hatching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

King vulture: Hatched on April 3, this chick is melting hearts in its ZooNorth Wings of Wonder habitat. The little one will eventually develop a very colorful neck and head with varying colors, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red.

Southern ground hornbill: This little one was hatched on March 29. Fun fact — these are the “wolves of the bird world,” living in family groups. (In case you missed it, we welcomed our first-ever flock of chicks last year. This is a must-watch video!)

Yellow-billed storks: We hatched six of these chicks this season. This group is currently behind the scenes, but will most likely be in their habitat soon. These storks are a particularly big deal for us because we’re the only AZA-accredited zoo hatching them right now.

Marabou storks: Two of these chicks hatched this season, one on Jan. 30 and one on May 6. The first chick is in its habitat on the Gorilla Trail, and our second chick remains behind the scenes. We’re proud to care for one of the largest flocks of marabou stock in North America!

Hooded vulture: Hatched on May 16, this chick is currently on habitat in Wings of Wonder. Our other chick hatched May 22 and is in the saddle-billed stork habitat near Simmons Hippo Outpost. Check out the live-streaming “nestcam” video near the habitat to see this chick!

Hatching season still isn’t done! We still have more to share, including some hatchlings that are a first for us. Stay posted for more!

Categories: Birds, Penguins | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo animals bring smiles to tiny hospital patients and beyond

A small Children’s Health patient prepares to meet a Dallas Zoo animal ambassador penguin along with Outreach Supervisor Shannon College.

Whether it’s a tamandua high up in the sky at Reunion Tower or penguins at a Texas Rangers ballgame, you never quite know where the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures outreach team will go next. With just seven staff members, the team carries out nearly 1,000 animal outreach programs a year across North Texas, bringing animal encounters to places like, schools, hospitals, businesses, convention centers, and many iconic Dallas locations.

When the small staff is not on the road, they’re tending to the needs of the 40 educational ambassador animals that delight, inspire and educate those attending an outreach experience. The job sounds demanding, however for Animal Adventures outreach team manager, Allyssa Leslie, the well-being of the ambassador animals remains top priority, “We work hard to ensure our animals feel safe and comfortable traveling with us. It’s great to see that when we go out to these events, the animals choose to come out with us because they know they’re safe and it’s interesting for them to go to new places.”

Despite all the variety this team experiences, some trips are so special that they’re repeated over and over again. Thanks to the Simmons Animal Safari program, and a treasured partnership with Children’s Health established in 2014, the outreach team returns to the hospital every few months to provide magical up-close animal encounters to small patients overcoming big obstacles.

The outreach team, including two-toed sloth Lola and African penguin duo, Sid and Jazz, arrive with the humble goal of encouraging smiles while gifting a special experience to those families who have more on their plate than planning a trip to the Zoo at this time.

Excitement filled the room as the children enjoyed the animals on stage.

“Even for the children that cannot physically come down to see the presentation, Children’s Health broadcasts the program into their rooms so they can enjoy it as well,” Leslie shares of the experience, “We are glad to be able to go out and hopefully bring some joy and fun memories for the patients and their families.”

Following the animal presentation, families are encouraged to come up close and commemorate the experience with a photo with an animal ambassador. Leslie watches on as the patients eagerly line up to have their moment at the front of the stage, “It’s so wonderful to see the excitement on the kids and their families’ faces when they get to see the animals so close!” she gushes.

At the close of the presentation, one last parting gift is revealed, each family is given tickets as a standing invitation to visit the Dallas Zoo. We look forward to many future visits to Children’s Health, bringing enjoyment to these extraordinary kids and their families with each animal encounter.

(Interested in hosting an Animal Adventures outreach program? Click here for more information.)

Categories: Education, Events, Penguins, Wild Encounters | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saving African penguins with a new home

 

Two penguins standing in front of one of the artificial nests.

“Penguins have been decimated by what people have done to them,” said Kevin Graham, bird supervisor at the Dallas Zoo. “We’ve done everything we can to wipe African penguins off the planet. We’ve stolen their eggs by the hundreds of thousands, we’ve polluted their environment, we’ve taken all their fish, we’ve taken their nest area, we’ve introduced predators and we’ve introduced disease. It’s about time we do something to help them.”

Kevin on Dyer Island installing the nests.

African penguins burrow and nest in guano, a term for their poop. About 110 years ago, there were over a million guano nests for African black-footed penguins. But South African natives started stealing the guano to use as fertilizer. Right now, there are only about 27 natural guano nests left. This has left the critically endangered African penguin population in serious trouble.

For the past three years, Kevin has been trying to resolve that problem. In addition to working with birds at the Zoo, he is also the artificial nest development project coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He studies, builds and installs artificial guano nests for African penguins to lay eggs in. And after three years of research and testing, he was finally able to install nests in South Africa along with the help of our incredible partners, Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA).

Over the course of two weeks this past February, Kevin and our Association of Zoos and Aquariums partners built and installed 200 nests in two South African penguin colonies. (Thanks to our Invest in the Nest Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that helped AZA-accredited zoos raise the funds for this project!) And great news — the penguins seemed to settle into their new homes very quickly. At the end of February, 40 percent of the nests in one colony already had eggs in them, and 25 percent of the nests in the other colony had eggs! Kevin gets updates frequently on more and more eggs being laid.

African penguins will no longer have to incubate their nests in the open sun, and their eggs will be more protected from predators.

Over the next few months, Kevin and his team will be collecting environmental data from the nests. Once they’ve analyzed the data to ensure the nests are in tiptop shape for the penguins, they will start building 3,000 more nests to install. Long-term, he hopes to have 6-7,000 installed nests in total.

“If everything goes well and these nests continue to work, then we can keep giving them homes,” said Graham. “Each one we build is in an environmentally friendly deposit. We can’t solve the population decline with just the nests. Over-fishing, climate change, marine pollution, introduced pests, human incursion, habitat degradation—all of that has to be addressed. But at least if nothing else, we can give them a place to raise kids.”

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

Wild Earth Action Team: Protecting a tiny bird’s big habitat

What’s black, white and red all over? No, not a penguin with a sunburn. Try again. It’s the red-cockaded woodpecker! (The red part is actually just a small stripe on its head). Sadly, though, these little guys are nearly extinct.

But our Wild Earth Action Team (WEAT) is ensuring these birds keep pecking away for a long time. The team just wrapped their third annual trip to the Big Thicket National Preserve where they planted longleaf pines to help restore habitat for this endangered bird and other species.

For the red-cockaded woodpeckers to survive, they need to be able to safely nest – and they rely on longleaf pine forests to do that. So we’ve gotten to work, and over the past few years, the Dallas Zoo and a team of volunteers have planted more than 30,000 longleaf pines to reforest 300 acres for habitat.

“We’re thankful to all our volunteers, including the Dallas Zoo, who have played a vital role in the reforestation efforts in the Preserve,” said Jason Ginder, Park Ranger at Big Thicket National Preserve. “Re-establishing an ecosystem based on native plant communities is vital to a healthy forest. Longleaf pine trees thrive in the Southeast Texas climate, and make it ideal habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.”

We couldn’t make these expeditions happen without our rock star community joining us to protect Texas wildlife.

“Getting the chance to go on this expedition was probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been able to do,” said Jon V., Dallas Zoo Conservation Guide. “It felt so amazing to participate in the active conservation process and to help restore the habitat of the endangered woodpecker, so that hopefully one day, it will be taken off the endangered species list.”

We rely on people like you to help us reach our conservation goals. One of our most ambitious goals this year is to remove ten tons of litter pollution from wildlife habitats. Help us reach this by pledging to pick up just ten pieces of litter every Tuesday. It’s that simple! Learn about the Ten on Tuesday campaign here. You can also join us on one of our Wild Earth Action Team expeditions! We head to Corpus Christi March 2-4 to restore habitat for the endangered whooping crane, plus, we’re doing a ton of cool activities. Learn more about the trip!

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Education, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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