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Category — Birds

Duck Dynasty

By Kim Klosterman and Jenny Gainer

Ducklings emerging

At the Cincinnati Zoo, the beginning stages of duck breeding season on Swan Lake are just around the corner.   Most people associate spring time with cute little ducklings, but at the Zoo’s bird house we have to start preparing in the winter.  In order to promote natural breeding behaviors on our lake there are a few things bird keepers have to do to encourage our feathered friends.  We have successfully bred, raised, and released ruddy ducks, bufflehead, goldeneye, wood duck, and several species of merganser over the years.  This is due, in part, to the hours of work our keepers spend on making duck boxes, installing them, monitoring them, and rearing chicks.

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Cavity nesting bird populations have been in decline in the last few decades due to the loss of mature and old growth in our forests.  Mature forests provide larger, dead standing trees, called snags.  These snags are typically in various stages of decomposition.  Certain species of cavity nesting waterfowl will use abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities.  These same species will also use artificial nest boxes, so providing these sites for our ducks  helps increase our captive and wild waterfowl populations.

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Nest boxes are installed on posts above the water in mid-February, or as soon as the ice thaws on Swan Lake.  This gives the ducks several weeks to get acclimated to seeing the boxes, swimming around them, sitting on top of them, and eventually going inside.  It’s around the beginning of April that egg-laying begins.  Keepers check the boxes every two weeks for eggs to ensure  we do not miss any hatching.  Any eggs that are found are pulled for artificial incubation.  Eggs are weighed, candled for fertility, numbered, and set up in our incubator.

2013 Waterfowl Eggs

Eggs cannot be left with the parents for a very important reason.  Although our ducks are in a somewhat captive setting on the lake, there is still risk of predators on zoo grounds.  Any duckling that hatches is at high risk of predation by raccoons, cats, possums, foxes, and even some of the bigger fish that reside in the lake.  So Cincinnati Zoo keepers take over parental duties by incubating, hatching, and rearing the ducklings.  Once the ducks are full grown, eating very well on their own, and are acclimated to the outdoors, they are re-introduced to Swan Lake.

So, the next time you are at the Zoo, be sure to look for our ducks and their nest boxes out on Swan Lake.

February 13, 2014   No Comments

Lessons from the Passenger Pigeon

Guest blogger: Sophie Williams, Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) student and consultant on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation

Did you know that the male passenger pigeon could fly up to 60 miles per hour? Find out what nickname this earned the pigeon from our Director of Education, Dan Marsh, as he is interviewed for Kentucky Afield. He discusses how the loss of the passenger pigeon was one of the key motivators for today’s conservation movement. Learn more about the passenger pigeon, what the skies were like when filled with these birds, and the important lessons they left in their wake.

Passenger Pigeon (Photo: J.G. Hubbard)

Passenger Pigeon (Photo: J.G. Hubbard)

 

Don’t forget, you can get involved by holding a Project Passenger Pigeon event in your community! You could download a variety of educational materials for use in your class or organization, put on an origami pigeon parade, or host a speaker in your school or community. Visit Project Passenger Pigeon’s website for more information. How will you get involved?

To read the other posts in this series, click here. Join us next month as we take a look at species conservation at the Cincinnati Zoo. 

February 7, 2014   No Comments

Why are there spots in these birds’ mouths?

Post co-authored by Aimee OwenGFinch1

The offspring of many finch species, like these Gouldian finch (Chloebia gouldiae) chicks, have luminous nodules, called papillae, on the sides of their beaks and markings on the inside of their mouths. Together, these act as sort of a “beacon” to direct the parents to the hungry mouths of their chicks in dark nest cavities.  Each species of finch has a different arrangement of papillae and mouth markings.  As each chick develops into an adult and begins to eat without parental assistance the papillae and markings gradually disappear.

Gouldian finches are a species of grass finch that inhabit the savannah regions of northern Australia.  Australian seasonal changes range from a dry season lasting about six months to a wet season, which lasts about three months.  These finches feed primarily on grass seeds throughout the year.  However, in the beginning of the dry season when the grasses turn brown and go dormant, an abundance of fallen seeds previously hidden become more available to the birds.  This period of plentiful food directly coincides with and activates the Gouldian finch breeding season. [Read more →]

January 28, 2014   1 Comment