Curious Bird, Undiscovered Exhibit

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There is a little-known group of bird enclosures off the beaten path at the San Diego Zoo. Along these cages a visitor can see the shy, but friendly, Bartlett’s bleeding heart doves, the active and territorial magpie robins, or the vocal dollarbirds. This little group of enclosures can be seen on the road just west of Polar Bear Plunge. Though it’s a bit out of the way, the enthusiastic visitor is rewarded with the chance to meet some of the most personable birds in the Zoo’s collection.

One such bird is the kagu Rhynochetos jubatus, a flightless bird from the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. This inability to fly makes the kagu very susceptible to introduced predators. As a result, the kagu’s future remains uncertain. Like many flightless birds, kagus are very good at hiding. There have been many mornings where I was convinced that our kagu performed an escape worthy of Houdini only to find out that he was patiently waiting for his breakfast only a few feet away!

Though kagus are very shy and cautious with unfamiliar keepers, they demand attention from their favorites. When I first started working in this area, the kagu hid from me in his “log house” located at the back right of the exhibit. As the months went by, he started coming out of his house and moved closer and closer to me in order to get to his favorite food items (usually worms and crickets). Nowadays, I’m greeted at the door with a magnificent display of outstretched wings and a cocked tail (I think he is more excited to see his food arrive than he is at seeing me).

Kagus are so rare—both in the wild and in zoos—that you won’t be able to see them on exhibit at any other facility in the United States. Don’t worry about this little guy getting lonely, though! A few months ago we introduced a female into the enclosure just next door! Though they were separated by wire mesh, keepers kept a close eye on them for any signs of aggression. Instead of being territorial, the resident male was very inquisitive and welcoming toward his new neighbor. She was cautious of her new surroundings but seemed to take comfort in being next to such a warm and “handsome” friend. The female is a recent hatch from a pair of kagus located at the aviary near The Zoo’s Bus Tour loading. This means that she will be too young to breed for a few years. But when she comes of age, the Zoo hopes to put these two together with hopes of breeding these rare and personable birds.

Mike Grue is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous blog, Harpy Eagles.