Category — Kea Encounter
Here in the Wings of the World bird house at the Cincinnati Zoo, kea are all the hype this season. And this is with good reason. The success of the new interactive flight this past summer is noteworthy, but behind the scenes something just as exciting was occurring. The Wings of the World department includes an area off exhibit dedicated to incubating eggs and hand-rearing chicks. This year we successfully hatched out and raised six kea chicks. Raising this species is a very time consuming process that requires the help of all the bird staff over the course of five months, from day one of incubation to fledging.
Artificially incubating eggs is a delicate endeavor. Eggs are fragile and sensitive; therefore it is vital to keep them in a clean environment with precise temperature and humidity settings. The bird department has four incubators dedicated to this, all set up for different species of birds that may require different parameters. Eggs are weighed and candled twice a week in order to closely monitor development. Candling is a technique used to see the developing embryo inside the egg. This technique indicates to keepers whether or not a chick is developing correctly, is in the right position for hatching, and when the hatching process has begun. Keeping track of weights is an indicator of whether or not humidity in the incubator needs to be adjusted. Kea egg incubation term is 21-28 days.
Once a chick has pipped (pierced the outer layer of the shell), it is moved to a different incubator where the temperature and humidity is ideal for hatching. It can take anywhere from 24-72 hours for a chick to hatch. All six of our kea hatched out on their own and proved to be strong and healthy when they were immediately standing upright and exhibiting a feeding response.
After a few hours, the chick can be moved to another enclosure, called a brooder. The brooder keeps the chick’s environment at a warm stable temperature. Keepers use washcloths and towels rolled up in a bowl to simulate a nest. As chicks grow and down feathers come in, temperatures and enclosures are modified to fit their needs.
Kea chicks are fed a specialized formula that meets all their dietary needs. The formula is made up fresh at each feeding and fed through a syringe. Weights are obtained daily and detailed notes are kept to ensure the chick is gaining the appropriate amount each day and hitting developmental milestones. The keas are initially fed every three hours, six times per day. That makes for a long day for the bird keepers! When the chicks start to become very mobile and curious with their surroundings, solid food is offered. Whether they play in it, walk in it, or sleep in it, it’s a good experience for them to have access to solids. The bird staff spends a lot of time hand-feeding different food items in different forms until chicks begin to show interest. Overall, the best method to wean chicks is to have an adult kea around to show them how a real kea does it.
Once the kea are fully feathered and starting to self-feed, we begin daily field trips to the kea exhibit and holding areas. This gives the chicks an opportunity to adapt to a new environment, explore, exercise, and learn how to behave around adult keas. As the chicks become more comfortable in this new environment, the longer they can stay out. The length of the trips and the need for supervision from keepers all depends on how the kea seem to be adapting. Overall, it takes around four months to hand-raise a kea and then fully integrate it into the flock. This is on par with a kea chick that fledges around 3-4 months of age in the wild.
Raising kea takes a lot of time and effort from the bird staff, but the reward is great. The Cincinnati Zoo is the only AZA-accredited institution to hatch out and raise kea in the last five years. What an accomplishment! Next time you are at the Zoo, stop by the free flight aviary next to Wings of the World and see if you can spot one of our six juveniles, all grown up.
March 2, 2015 2 Comments
As we prepare for Thanksgiving and think about what we are grateful for, I ask you to consider giving thanks to wildlife. Without bees, we wouldn’t have honey. Without snakes, we would be overrun with rodents. And without turkeys, what would we eat for Thanksgiving?
Believe it or not, wild turkeys were once on the brink of extinction. Due to unregulated hunting, turkeys actually disappeared from Ohio by 1904. Working together, government agencies and the hunting community established protective laws, hunting regulations, restocking programs and reforestation efforts that have enabled wild turkey populations to rebound.
Thank goodness, we didn’t lose the turkey, but there are many other species facing serious threats to their survival today, one of which is a New Zealand mountain parrot called the kea. Highly intelligent and neophilic (attracted to anything new), the kea is well adapted to its harsh, mountainous environment. Food can be hard to come by in heavy snow. Fortunately, the inquisitive kea is an opportunistic omnivore; it will try anything once and has the skill and determination to get it.
The traits that allow keas to take advantage of new resources and survive in a harsh environment—intelligence, curiosity and playfulness—are the same ones that get them into trouble with people. Many tourists’ cars have lost their windshield wipers and window sealing at local ski areas to the kea’s curiosity and long, sharp beak. Keas also get into trouble with farmers as they will peck at and feed off of sheep.
Damage done by keas is reported each year by private landowners, tourists, tourist operators and workers. Many more conflict events go unreported as people often deal with their concerns illegally. Although fully protected under the New Zealand Wildlife Act, an unknown number of keas are intentionally and illegally killed each year.
Current legal methods of conflict resolution include the relocation of keas or legal extermination of nuisance kea with a permit. Neither solution is considered particularly effective or sustainable. The resolution of human-kea conflict is critical to the successful conservation of the endangered parrot. However, to ensure success, a concise plan which fosters community support is vital.
The Zoo supports the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) to conserve wild kea in their natural habitat and increase the husbandry standards and advocacy potential of kea held in captive facilities. Collaborative projects include comprehensive population research incorporating satellite and VHF radio tracking, nest monitoring, and use of acoustic recording devices. The Zoo has also supported the development of kea repellents to reduce human-wildlife conflict situations.
This year, the Zoo is stepping up its efforts to protect keas. Our Project Saving Species program is supporting the KCT’s Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, which is a multi-year proactive community-focused conflict response and resolution program that aims to identify the nature of conflict experienced by people living within kea habitat, provide ‘first response’ during conflict situations, help people deal proactively to 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 Zoo support a key personnel position, the Community Volunteers Coordinator (CVC). Having a CVC in place allows staff to respond proactively to conflict situations that arise. Funds will also enable KCT personnel to enhance their skills in conflict resolution by sponsoring staff attendance at the internationally recognized Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration Workshop in 2015. Additionally, Zoo aviculturists will join the KCT team in the New Zealand mountains for kea nest monitoring and field work over the next couple of years.
This Thanksgiving, as you gnaw on a turkey leg, take a minute to reflect on all that we have to be grateful to wildlife for and the fact that we can give back by helping those species, like the kea, that are struggling to survive. And then, make plans to come visit the kea at the Zoo this winter during Festival of Lights; Encounters will take place from 5:30pm to 6:30pm, Thursday through Sunday. They love the snow, and will be happy to take your donations to support kea conservation through Project Saving Species.
November 11, 2014 No Comments
Written by Crissi Lanier, Advanced Inquiry Program Graduate and Interpretive Media Volunteer, and Shasta Bray, Interpretive Media Manager
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and participate in our new Kea Encounter!
June 20, 2014 No Comments