The white-faced whistling ducks Dendrocygna viduata in Scripps Aviary at the San Diego Zoo are not known for being shy. They are not known for being subtle. They are not known for being quiet. What they ARE known for, by their keepers at least, are their ambushes and shakedowns!
The bird keeper working in Scripps Aviary has a morning filled with sights and sounds. The African grays Psittacus erithacus whirl, and caw. The green woodhoopoes Phoeniculus purpureus constantly cackle. The emerald starlings Coccycolius iris chirp, and the great blue turacos Corythaeola cristata make whatever crazy noise they make. Amid this beautiful symphony of sound, a keeper may forget to keep an ear out for the whistling duck gang.
The ambush starts off with an innocent high-pitched chirp. The chirp alerts those in hiding that their target is near. In moments, the whole flock of white-faced whistling ducks has the keeper surrounded! Whistling at the top of their small but mighty lungs, the ducks close in. The only way out of the jam? A quick-thinking keeper can distract them by tossing a couple of millet sprays into the water. Once the ducks take the bait, placing their food pan near their pool is another way to ensure that the keeper will be allowed out of the trap in one piece.
Okay, maybe I am being a little over-dramatic. The ducks are fairly friendly and never attack their keepers. I do think, however, that the message they are sending is clear: We want our food!
Check out the video to see what it looks—and sounds—like to be caught out in the open by the whistling duck gang!
Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, A Peacock Named Shameless.