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Category — Birds

Earth Week: Helping Birds in Your Own Backyard!

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

This week, we at the Cincinnati Zoo are celebrating Earth Week! Earth Week surrounds Earth Day, an annual worldwide event where we recognize and support environmental protection and conservation efforts across the globe. In the midst of work on the Passenger Pigeon Memorial renovation, I can’t help but think of Martha, the world’s last passenger pigeon, during this week, almost 100 years after her passing. Despite the loss of this species, Martha’s legacy and the occasion of Earth Week provide us with a great opportunity to think about how we might protect other species today.

Not only can you learn more about conservation programs at the Cincinnati Zoo, you can get involved in species conservation in your own backyard! There are many programs specifically targeted toward bird lovers, which we will highlight this week in honor of Martha.

Hummingbird (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Hummingbird (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Check out these great programs to get started:

International Migratory Bird Day—International Migratory Bird Day is coming up soon. This day in mid-May celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Of course Bird Day is not just a day; IMBD invites us to celebrate birds every day of the year!

Celebrate Urban Birds—We’re all close to birds, even in large cities like Cincinnati. Check out Celebrate Urban Birds for more on urban bird watching.

NestWatch—Have a nest in your yard or near your school? NestWatch, a program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track nesting patterns of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. NestWatch is easy and is a great activity for families! Become a certified NestWatcher using the helpful tips on the organization’s site, and record your findings to help researchers and scientists gather essential information on reproductive biology of birds.

Ebird—With Ebird, you can submit your observations of birds anytime! This program, launched by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, allows you to create maps and lists of the birds you’ve seen, and share your observations with other birders. Your observations will join those from around the world and contribute to a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere.

Get ready for next winter:

Project FeederWatch—Cornell Lab of Ornithology organizes this winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, and other areas across North America. FeederWatchers count the birds they see at their feeders, helping scientists track movements of bird populations.

Christmas Bird Count—The Audubon Society organizes the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, which provides critical data on population trends.

What will you see in your backyard this Earth Week?

Cardinal (Photo: Eric J. Brock)

Cardinal (Photo: Eric J. Brock)

To read the other posts in this series, click here. Join us in May as we discuss how you can make a difference and keep other wildlife from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

April 23, 2014   1 Comment

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   2 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