Birds

Nests 101: Building a home out of ANYTHING

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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: , | Leave a comment

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

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_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

Christmas is for the birds

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A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but can work in a pinch as long as the weather cooperates.

A snowman is a non-traditional bird feeder, but it can work as long as the weather cooperates.

Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy, Ben Jones, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

With 98.5% of all North American migratory birds, and 637 of the 957 total North American bird species recorded in our state, you can say Texas is for the birds! Feeding and identifying birds is an amazing nature adventure that’s fun, intellectually challenging and pleasant to watch and listen.

The average yard has 15 different bird species visitors. With a little effort, you can increase your species count to around 50.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is seen through a bird-spotting scope. The Dallas Count Circle spotted six sapsuckers on their recent outing.

Tips to increase your yard bird count:

  • Try offering different foods.
  • Place feeders at different levels. Birds find their food by sight and like to eat at the same level they would find their food in the wild.
  • Try a high quality seed mix to attract cardinals, blue jays, doves, chickadees, and titmice.
  • Add peanuts into the mix for woodpeckers and nuthatch.
  • Add thistle seed this winter for finches. You’ll need a special feeder for thistle or you can pour it into a mesh sock.
  • Suet is a great bird food for winter. Fatty suet provides extra energy for birds during cold months

Some bird species live here year-round, and some are migratory and travel with the seasons. The Christmas Bird Count is the oldest citizen science initiative in the world with tens of thousands of people counting resident and migratory birds. This year on an unseasonably warm Saturday, 37 participants from the Dallas Count Circle identified 107 total species at and around the Dallas Zoo. Some special bird species spotted this year include the greater and lesser yellowlegs, loggerhead shrike, Bewick’s wren and a horned grebe.

This winter watch for resident species like blue jays, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadee, woodpeckers and mourning, inca and white-wing doves. Also, look closely for migratory species like dark-eyed juncos, American goldfinches, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches.

Of course, where there is an abundance of bird activity, there could always be bird-eaters.  Make sure your cats stay indoors and watch for raptors like Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks.

So, what are you waiting for? Put out a few feeders. Try some new seed mixes. Sip a hot chocolate and let the winter bird fun begin!

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Rare Egyptian vulture proves he’s special for many reasons

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Egyptian Vulture

Bird keeper Debbie Milligan guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

As animal keepers, we are frequently asked: “What is your favorite fill in the blank?” I always think that question is like, “What is your favorite pie?” How can I pick just one when they are all amazing?

However, every once in a while, one member of our collection sticks out and becomes special to a lot of people. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day on Sept. 3 (put it on your calendar!), and as a way to say bon voyage to one special bird, let me introduce you to Einstein.

Einstein is a 28-year-old Egyptian vulture who came to the Dallas Zoo in 1990. Egyptian vultures are striking birds with white body feathers, black flight feathers and a bare yellow face. With three subspecies, they range from South and Eastern Europe, India and Africa. They tend to be solitary birds or live as a pair; rarely are these birds found in groups.

For his keepers, what makes Einstein so great is his attitude. He is just… mellow. He doesn’t walk, he strolls. He isn’t intimidated by larger birds or with new items. Egyptian vultures are one of the few bird species that use tools. These birds will find rocks, of a particular size, and use the rocks to open up eggs.  The birds will use their bill to pick up the rock and throw it at the egg until they break it open to eat the yolk and egg white inside.

As a special treat, we occasionally give Einstein an unfertile ostrich egg, and he immediately shows off his tool-using skills. It is so impressive to watch him do this. (See my video below!)

 

Egyptian vultures were the symbol for royalty in ancient Egypt, They were the sacred bird of Egyptian Goddess Isis and can be seen on many hieroglyphs! In fact, Egyptian vultures were so revered, they were protected under the Pharaoh and became so common they were called “Pharaoh’s chicken.”

It’s sad that these beautiful birds are now an endangered species. Their numbers are declining rapidly.  One of the main causes for their downfall, as for most vulture species, is by eating poisoned carcasses.

Many African farmers will deliberately poison livestock carcasses, intended to kill lions and other predators as retaliation after they’ve killed their livestock, but the vultures get to them first. Vultures also die from eating the poisoned carcasses poachers leave, so the birds aren’t able to circle the sky and potentially alert authorities of illegal activity. Vultures are also dying from electrocution by flying into powerlines, and increased human disturbance in their breeding areas.

I bet you’re asking: “Why are you saying goodbye to Einstein if he is so special and we need to breed more Egyptian vultures?” It is because Einstein is one of only three Egyptian vultures in U.S. zoos. In the best interest of his species, and for Einstein to produce chicks, he needs to go to Europe to find a mate. The Prague Zoo is one institution that is world-renowned for breeding Egyptian vultures. Hopefully Einstein will become part of this program and produce many chicks to help the survival of his species.

So please come visit Einstein before he leaves this fall and celebrate this wonderful group of birds: vultures! You can find Einstein in the saddle-billed stork exhibit on the Gorilla Trail near the monorail station.

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

Chicks galore! Another epic breeding season for bird team

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Dallas Zoo’s bird curator, Sprina Liu, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

It’s been another banner breeding season for the bird department and I’m here to share some of our successes! Each species has their own specific breeding season timeframes, so to truly say we’re done is not accurate. As I compose this, there are still more than two dozen eggs in incubators and nests. So while we’re not quite done yet, things are slowing down. We have a great team that works hard throughout the year and they’re the reason we are as successful as we are.  Here are just a few of the highlights:


_MG_1935-Caribbean flamingo chick-CB _MG_8812-lesser flamingo chicks-CB

Flamingos: Some of my favorites! We kicked off 2016 with another productive season with our lesser flamingo flock welcoming four chicks. More recently, we had an addition to our Caribbean flamingo flock in late June. Hopefully everyone caught the little cutie on social media!


_MG_3836-King vulture chick-CB
King vulture: We hatched this little one at the end of April. He/she has not left the nest yet but you might be able to catch a glimpse of this now large white fluff-ball peering out from the nest box in ZooNorth’s Wings of Wonder.


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African spoonbills: A record year for Dallas Zoo! We welcomed eight chicks – the most we’ve ever hatched. The breeding flock surprised us this season after they fledged their first five chicks. Normally once they’ve reared, they haven’t wanted to nest again. But we spotted the birds exhibiting nesting behaviors, so we encouraged them and three additional chicks hatched! This is unprecedented. Great observation skills by our keepers made this our best year yet. Although the main flock is off exhibit, you can see African spoonbills in our lesser flamingo habitat in the Wilds of Africa.


_MG_3856-Fulvous whistling duckling-CB _MG_8762-Ruddy Shelduck ducklings-CB

Waterfowl: We bred two species of waterfowl this year: a clutch of fulvous whistling ducks (left), and ruddy shelducks (right). Who doesn’t love ducklings? They’re still off-exhibit at the moment but you can see fulvous whistling ducks in the Zoo North flamingo pond and ruddy shelducks in the Wilds of Africa forest aviary.


_MG_8071-two baby penguins 2-4-16 CB
African penguin: Another one you may have caught on social media! Resident breeders Tazo and Tulip raised two chicks this season. Our two boys are doing well and have joined the rest of the flock on exhibit in Penguin Cove.


_MG_2161-marabou stork chicks in nest 4-19-16
Marabou stork: Dallas Zoo is making huge contributions to this zoological population. With 15 birds, we hold the largest population of this species in the North American region and bred three chicks this year, more than anyone else! Our management strategy and daily efforts with the birds paid off—one additional female that has never bred before raised a chick, and a second female that hadn’t bred laid two clutches of eggs. Though her eggs were not fertile, we have high hopes in the coming years! Look for these birds on the Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari.


_MG_1127-Yellow-billed stork-CB

Yellow-billed stork: Dallas Zoo continues to play an important role with this species as well. This group is currently off exhibit, but we’re working on getting some on exhibit for everyone to enjoy. The group has produced two chicks this season. The interesting fact about this year is that they’re still not done! Like the spoonbills, the pairs, after rearing their chicks, are nesting again and this is unprecedented behavior for our group. The success of this bonus nesting period isn’t seen as we have eggs incubating and other pairs back nest building. Though we won’t know if the eggs are viable yet, it is a success in itself that the birds are still wanting to nest this late in the year.


_MG_2137-white-backed vulture chick-CB

White-backed vulture: Facebook goers should know about this one, too! Our little boy is not so little anymore. He hasn’t left the nest yet, but he’s working on figuring out his wings. Like his older sister in 2015, he is the only one of his species bred this year in North America. This important little guy brings the current U.S. population to 12 and for this critically endangered species, a successful breeding program may be crucial to aid their wild counterparts. We are very proud and honored to have received special recognition earlier this year from the AZA Avian Scientific Advisory Group for our achievement with this species. He can be spotted with his parents in the Wilds of Africa aviary across from the Simmon’s Hippo Outpost area currently under development.


As you can see, we’ve had quite the year so far, and these are just the highlights. We bred quite a few other species in cooperation with SSP recommendations and other facilities that were not even mentioned above but we’d be here all day! We’re looking forward to a short break (shorter than usual!) before this fall when we’ll be starting it all back up again. More updates to come!

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

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