Posts Tagged With: 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

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

Chicks galore! Another epic breeding season for bird team

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.


_MG_9920-spoonbill chick-CB
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

Know when to help a baby bird

baby cardinals

Baby cardinal hatchlings patiently wait for food from their mother.

Spring is here! And with it comes blooming flowers, rising temperatures, debilitating allergies – and baby birds.

Those chicks may find themselves out of the nest and helpless on the ground, but knowing basic information can save the animal’s life and benefit the environment. Learn more with information from Dallas Zoo Bird Curator Sprina Liu, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Audubon Texas.

(Consider this your first bird-keeper-in-training lesson.)

Know the bird’s stage of development

A hatchling is a recently hatched baby bird with little to no feathers and closed eyes. These birds are completely helpless and need help getting back into their nests, which should be nearby.

If the baby bird has open eyes and small tufts of feathers, it is likely a nestling, and needs some help. These birds are not mobile and need to be gently returned to the nest. Typically, the bird’s nest is directly above where the nestling is found.

A baby bird attempting to fly may be a fledgling. These young birds can be identified by short feathers and the ability to hop around, flap and grip onto your fingers. If you find a fledgling, the best plan is to step back and wait to see if an adult comes to tend to it. Despite being on the ground, most fledglings aren’t abandoned or helpless – they’re learning how to fly and move around!

Things to remember

• Before intervening with any bird, visually examine it to see if it’s hurt or injured. If you believe it is injured, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

• Baby birds can be delicate and quick action on your part to return the chick to the nest or to a rehabilitation specialist can make the difference.

• It is OK to move a fledgling out of harm’s way if it’s found on a road or busy path.

• If you find a baby bird, it’s always a good idea to restrain, crate or put inside any domestic pets while you deal with the bird.

• When in doubt, leave the bird alone and contact an expert.

Baby bird fast facts

• It’s myth that parents will reject a baby bird handled by a human. Birds have a poor sense of smell.

• Nests aren’t the safe, cozy homes that humans envision. Birds are quick to leave the nest for safety and survival.

• The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal to capture and raise any wild migratory bird.

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

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