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Category — Birds

More than Plumage Deep: Animal Attraction

Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Education/Wild Encounters

The bright plumage of a peacock is so unmistakable that we use it as a metaphor for showing off to prospective romantic partners. When a male peacock unfurls its brilliant tail feathers, you can’t help but stop and stare. When you walk through the Zoo, you’ll almost certainly encounter one of our male peacocks, crooning his relationship status or proudly displaying his colorful fan. He might even try to distract you from other, less colorful animals, by inserting himself between you and them! (If you’d like to learn the cool way that the structure of the peacock’s feathers produces the glorious colors, check out these findings from 2003.)

Look at me! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Look at me! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

It’s spring, which means mating season for many animals, so it’s a great time to notice how animals preen, prance or patter in hopes of propagating their species.

We talked about mating signals during a recent  Zoo Troop session for 6th through 8th graders called “Be Mine.” The students observed birds, fish, and other creatures, learning about physical traits, actions, sounds, and scents that animals use to say, “Relationship Status: Available.”

We giggled a bit at the similarities between the human animal and some of the others out there. Humans choose clothing, hairstyles, perfumes, and workouts often with the goal of attracting a mate. Is a rock star strutting and belting a song so different from a male bird calling to passing females? Are our fashion choices so different from scales or plumage? We even studied the bower bird, which spends weeks building an elaborate “bachelor pad” complete with bling that he painstakingly gathers from his environment. Do you know anyone like that? There’s no doubt, we have a lot in common with wild animals.

John shows off his luxurious mane. (Photo: DJJAM)

John shows off his luxurious mane. (Photo: DJJAM)

An animal’s tools of attraction indicate that animal’s fitness, meaning the quality of its genetic material. Picking a mate who is strong, capable, and beautiful tends to mean their offspring will be the same. A lion with a lush mane is better protected during battles with rivals. A brighter pink flamingo has chowed on more shrimp. Some animals, from spiders to penguins, bring each other gifts, which may demonstrate the hunting prowess needed to feed young.

Lucky for humans, we’re able to see beneath the surface. What if you could only choose a partner based on outward signs or on what might be considered an ideal physical appearance? That would limit your choices considerably, and think of all that you might miss out on. We get to consider a person’s values and personality, likes and dislikes. We also have differing ideas about what is attractive. You might think someone is adorable who your friend finds positively plain.

As you explore the Zoo this spring, notice the mating rituals going on among the animals — even the human ones. Take a minute to consider how we’re alike and different from our fellow residents of planet Earth. And keep an eye out for the results of all this mating… Zoo babies!

One of the cheetah cubs in the Nursery now! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

One of the cheetah cubs in the Nursery now! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

 

May 2, 2016   No Comments

Ohio Young Birders Club Explores Cincinnati Zoo

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This month, the Cincinnati Zoo was excited to welcome the Southwest Chapter of Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Ohio Young Birders Club!

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The Ohio Young Birders Club is a program developed by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in 2006 to encourage, educate, and empower our youth conservation leaders. Each month student members can participate in field trips to exciting places in Ohio. In addition to visiting cool places in Ohio, many students participate in service projects focused on habitat restoration and other cool projects such as creating bird feeding areas at their local school.

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Goals of the Club

  • Create a community for young birders throughout Ohio ~ and beyond!
  • Promote volunteering and contributing through service projects
  • Foster an interest in natural history and encourage young people to spend more time outside
  • Introduce young people to career opportunities in the wildlife and conservation fields
  • Connect young birders with adult mentors willing to share their time, knowledge, and transportation!
  • HAVING FUN!

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The young birders learned from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Curator of Birds, Robert Webster, about the role of aviculture in conservation. They followed that up with an exclusvie Wings of the World Bird House tour.

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To join the Ohio Young Birders Club, or for more information on how you can get involved, click here.

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King penguin zooms by a student

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Behind the scenes in the Bird House… follow the footprints!

Here’s a look at some of the birds they came across at the Zoo:

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Little Penguin chicks

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Rockhopper Pegnuin

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Horned Puffin

 

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Bowie, the little penguin, and first Zoo Baby of 2016!

Nicobar pigeon

Nicobar pigeon

 

March 3, 2016   No Comments

A Day in the Life of a Kea Conflicts Coordinator

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we care for the largest collection of keas in North America. The kea is a highly intelligent mountain parrot from New Zealand. We are also committed to the conservation of this species and support the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) to conserve wild kea in their natural habitat.

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Highly intelligent and neophilic (attracted to anything new), keas are drawn to human areas, activity and property. Their investigative behavior can result in the destruction of human property. Property damage is reported each year by private landowners, tourists, tourist operators and workers. The resolution of human-kea conflict is critical to the successful conservation of the endangered parrot.

To that end, the Zoo supports the KCT’s Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, which is a multi-year community-focused conflict response and resolution program. The goals are to identify the nature of conflict experienced by people living within kea habitat, provide ‘first response’ during conflict situations, help people prevent problem situations arising in the first instance, and research practical methods of conflict resolution in collaboration and partnership with communities and the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). Funds from the Cincinnati Zoo support a key personnel position, the Conflicts Coordinator, who responds proactively to conflict situations that arise. Read on to learn more from the Conflicts Coordinator, Andrea Goodman, herself.

Guest blogger: Andrea Goodman, Kea Conservation Trust

It has almost been a year since taking on the ‘Conflict Resolution Position’ for the Kea Conservation Trust. This is indeed a job that is never dull, uses my wits, and is incredibly satisfying. If I can walk away from a site feeling that the kea are  safe, the owner/occupier of the property involved is on-board and feels heard, and we are working together to tackle the kea problem, then I am doing my job. I must admit, visiting my first conflict site filled me with some trepidation… ‘How bad will it be?’, ‘How will the people receive me?’, ‘Will there be anger?’, ‘Can I really do anything?’

Of course there was some anger, plenty of frustration, and a little bravado, but the Nelson Forest crew having kea trouble at a logging site near St Arnaud were fantastic. Up to 10 juvenile keas had been visiting this site for a month, and they were doing the usual kea damage: plucking rubber, damaging wiring on logging vehicles and ripping into seats on bulldozers. Not much fun for the crew involved – costing time and money, and potentially compromising safety. Full credit to the team though, for they were not feeding the birds, they were keeping their vehicles shut and were trying to protect gear using blue tarpaulins. The loader driver had even been pro-active in searching the internet to find solutions to minimize interference from their feathered friends. What struck me most about this visit (leaving an impression as it was my first), is that this is the general attitude of people having kea issues. At every single site visit I have been to, I have encountered the most tolerant, understanding (sure, frustrated too), and helpful people.

The crew at the St Arnaud site went beyond helpful, giving me a hand setting up a diversionary play-gym. The gym is designed to occupy kea and hopefully distract them from expensive logging equipment. The crew then continued to change items on the gym and maintain the cameras we set up to see if our friends visited. Visit they did! However, the frame was not up long enough to see if it made a difference. The crew have since moved to another site, and so far, I have not heard whether kea have made their presence felt.

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site  with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

To date, my main ‘clients’ have been forestry companies spread around the top of the South Island. Most have environmental protocols in place, which makes my job a lot easier.

One of the interesting things I see in this job is that altitude is no barrier to having kea visit. While it is always expected that kea may be present at high altitudes, I am regularly hearing of kea visiting properties right down at sea level. Once people realize this is natural for kea – they don’t just live in the mountains – there is almost a visible shift in their expectations.

We are so lucky on the mainland to have these birds. It is surprising how many people are not aware they are only found in the South Island. Armed with a little knowledge of these clowns, and exposing their vulnerable side too – that they are ground nesters – there may be less than 5000 left, they are susceptible to lead poisoning – leaves most people staunch advocates of our kea.

Only last week I had a call from a forestry company needing help with a sick kea at their site. The crew was really worried. They had picked it up and moved it out of harm’s way. This same company has had a rough time with kea, so their behavior really touched me.

I think if people are having issues with kea, the best thing is to get on to it as soon as possible. The Kea Conservation Trust, with support from the Department of Conservation, does not advocate the translocation of troublesome kea. Instead, together we can look at areas where we can minimize damage and try to discourage kea hanging around. Sometimes it may be a really simple solution that can make a huge difference. We are here to help.

February 3, 2016   2 Comments