avian propagation center


Rare Dalmatian Pelican Chicks Being Hand-Raised at San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center

An 11-day-old Dalmatian pelican chick gobbles its morning meal of fish at the San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center.

An 11-day-old Dalmatian pelican chick gobbles its morning meal of fish at the San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center.

The Avian Propagation Center at the San Diego Zoo has two new residents, a pair of Dalmatian pelicans—11 and 2 days old. The pair arrived at the Zoo from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, after their parents were unable to raise them upon hatching. Animal care staff at the Zoo’s off-exhibit Avian Propagation Center will hand-raise the birds for approximately 50 to 60 days, until they are strong enough to return to their flock at the Safari Park. The pelican chicks grow rapidly and should be covered in their downy feathers by three to four weeks of age.

The Dalmatian pelican chicks are part of the first North American breeding program for this vulnerable species. Since the breeding program was started in 2006, 34 chicks have been hatched. Because of the success, the Safari Park has sent some of the birds to the Phoenix Zoo, where a second breeding colony is being established.

Dalmatian pelicans are one of the rarest pelican species in the world and the largest of the pelican species. When they fledge at approximately six to seven months, the birds could measure five to six feet in length and have a wingspan of nine to 11 feet. Dalmatian pelicans live and nest in freshwater wetlands and rivers throughout Europe and Asia and have gone extinct in some of their native regions. The loss of numbers is due to damage of the delicate wetland habitats that they rely on for breeding and raising chicks.

Fish is the primary diet for the Dalmatian pelican, and they often must compete for food with fishing enterprises. In certain areas, they are hunted as a food source and for their bills, which herders use to comb horses.

Guests at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see Dalmatian pelicans in the middle of the large pond in the South African exhibit when they take the African Tram Safari.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on March 17, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo


Harpy Eagle Chick

On Monday, December 1, the San Diego Zoo welcomed its newest addition, a baby harpy eagle Harpia harpyja, the 14th hatched at the Zoo since 1994.

The Zoo’s pair of adult harpy eagles laid a single egg in their exhibit on October 10. Ten days later, the egg was pulled and set in an incubator, where its development could be carefully watched by the keepers at the Avian Propagation Center (APC). We weighed the egg daily to make sure that it was losing the right amount of water as the chick developed inside. We also monitored the progression of the embryo using a technique called “candling.”

When a bright light is shone through an egg, it allows the keepers to see what’s happening on the inside and keep an eye on the chick’s development throughout its incubation.

After 51 days in the egg, the chick began its escape the night of November 30, and after a long day of determined pecking, finally broke free at 7:15 the following evening. The new chick, wet and exhausted, weighed in at 2.58 ounces or 73.15 grams (or about half as much as a baseball). It was a humble beginning for one of the world’s largest eagle species. Female harpy eagles (the larger sex) can grow to be 20 pounds (9 kilograms); in the wild, they use their powerful feet and needle-sharp talons to snatch their prey from tree branches in the Central and South American rain forests. All of that seemed a little ambitious at that moment, though, as the freshly-hatched chick curled up to sleep off a long day’s work.

The following morning, we moved the chick into its new home in the APC’s “Brooder Room.” A brooder is a warm, humid box that mimics the environment under a parent bird. It is important that the chick never become imprinted on its human surrogates, so this particular brooder is covered with a towel, set behind a curtain, and continuously serenaded by a CD of soothing rain forest sounds to drown out the keepers’ voices. When it comes time to feed the baby, we put a sheet (or “ghost”) over our head and use a harpy eagle puppet to deliver the food.

The chick finally woke up and took its first small meal of diced pinkie mice at 4 p.m., 21 hours after hatching. It was the beginning of a gluttony that will turn this 73-ounce puffball into the most powerful avian predator on Earth!

Be sure to check back for regular updates.

Beau Parks is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read another blog about the San Diego Zoo’s harpy eagles