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Category — Birds

Have you heard about the new Kea Encounter?

Written by Crissi Lanier, Advanced Inquiry Program Graduate and Interpretive Media Volunteer, and Shasta Bray, Interpretive Media Manager

Guests make a new friend at the Kea Encounter

Guests make a new friend at the Kea Encounter

If you’re like me, your first question might be: What is a kea?

Meet the Kea

Ground-nesting parrots native to the Southern Alps on the Southern Island of New Zealand, keas have adapted to survive through bitter cold and little food during harsh winters, feeding mainly on bulbs, leaves, seeds, worms and insects, and even Hutton’s Shearwater chicks and eggs when other food isn’t available. Males are slightly heavier than females weighing about 850 to 1,000 grams (around 1.5 to 2 pounds) and have noticeably larger upper mandibles.

Female kea

Female kea

 

Male kea

Male kea

Keas have beautiful olive green feathers that become slightly darker at the end. If you look closely when they spread their wings, you will see a brilliant orange color on the under part of their wings. While keas are strong fliers, they spend a great deal of time on the forest floor foraging for food.

Antonio (male) shows off the beautiful colors on the underside of his wings.

Antonio (male) shows off the beautiful colors on the underside of his wings.

These clever parrots are considered to be as intelligent as primates. They regularly engage in play behavior and display play signals much like canids and primates do. They can also learn and adapt very quickly when presented with new situations such as the new Kea Encounter!

Keas are listed as Nationally Endangered in New Zealand and as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  This means it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild. They have been considered a threat to livestock and 150,000 birds were killed as part of a government bounty system. They have also seen a decline in numbers due to invasive species, habitat loss and lead poisoning. Only in 1986 did they finally receive legal protection. Clearly, they are in need of our help.

Keas at the Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo is home to over 40% of the entire kea population in North America with 16 keas, include 10 adults (five males and five females) and six juveniles. The juveniles hatched in April and are growing rapidly, already weighing as much as a young adult. Juveniles can be spotted by the yellowish coloring around their eyes and beak, which fades to dark brown after several years.

Kea chicks that hatched at the Zoo

Kea chicks that hatched at the Zoo

Come Play at the New Kea Encounter!

At the new kea exhibit (formerly Lorikeet Landing), there is large window through which guests can view the birds. Here, guests can play an interactive game with the keas to move a quarter through a puzzle by taking turns at turning gears and flipping levers.

Guests work with the kea to move a coin through a puzzle.

Guests work with the kea to move a coin through a puzzle.

 

There is also an interactive that challenges guests to be clever like a kea and move a ball around a track by working together. Keepers are on hand each day at 10:30 AM to chat with guests (check the daily animal encounters schedule for confirmation).

Guests work together to move a ball along a path to see if they are clever like a kea.

Guests work together to move a ball along a path to see if they are clever like a kea.

During the special Kea Encounter on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 4:00 to 5:00 PM, visitors are invited to enter the kea habitat. During that time, you can get up close views of the birds as they fly over your head and hop on the ground around you. With keeper assistance, the birds will accept donations for kea conservation; taking your dollar in their beak, they fly to a donation box and drop it in.

A kea collects a dollar donation from a guest.

A kea collects a dollar donation from a guest.

 

A young guest meets a kea up close.

A young guest meets a kea up close.

Supporting Kea Conservation

Funds raised by the Zoo support the  Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) in its mission to protect keas in the wild through nest monitoring and tracking kea movements. KCT is also testing a non-toxic repellent spray that would keep keas away from livestock and, in return, protect keas from farmer retaliation.  (Keas have been known to peck at and feed on the backs of sheep with their sharp beaks.)

Kea Conservation Trust studying keas in the wild (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Kea Conservation Trust studying keas in the wild (Photo: Nigel Adams)

Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and participate in our new Kea Encounter!

 

June 20, 2014   No Comments

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   4 Comments