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16

7 Animal Facts You Didn’t Learn In School

You don’t have to be an animal expert to appreciate the natural world. In fact, simple short cuts like the fun facts listed below, can be very conducive to gaining a better understanding of the Animal Kingdom. Enjoy!

Monkeys have tails and apes don't.

1. Monkeys have tails and apes don’t.
Since we have more in common with our great ape cousins than we do with monkeys, a good way to remember this fact is to simply look at your rear end.

There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.

2. There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.
Contrary to pop culture and older versions of Encyclopedia Britannica, snakes are venomous, not poisonous. If they were poisonous, touching or licking a serpent would be the more appropriate fear than death by snakebite. And that’s even debatable, since statistics show that out of 7,000 to 8,000 snakebites per year in the U.S., only 5 or 6 are fatal. Call it semantics, but the truth is only 10 percent of the 3,000 species of snake are venomous, meaning they inject toxins into their prey (biting or stinging). The difference is skin deep.

3

Food Time!

The great argus pheasants share their aviary with a variety of birds, each with its own dietary needs.

The great argus pheasants share their aviary with a variety of birds, each with its own dietary needs.

It should come as no surprise to hear that the most interesting, and dynamic, part of the day in any bird exhibit is usually feeding time. Even though our birds have constant access to a nutritious and balanced diet, a keeper entering the exhibit with new food pans means there are usually some choice goodies that any fish-eating stork, mealworm-devouring woodpecker, or grape-gnawing fruit-dove can’t wait to get a hold of. While the scope of a keeper’s entire morning feeding routine may be too overwhelming to cover in one short blog, we can take a look at how exciting feeding time is in one particular bird exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

The Malay great argus exhibit (just next to the lower tiger viewing glass) is home to a number of colorful characters. At any given moment you may witness the stunning fairy bluebird Irena puella singing his tune while making fast, powerful darts from perch to perch, the mischievous blue-winged sivas Minla cyanouroptera flitting from leaf to leaf, the hooded pittas Pitta sordida hopping in and out of the ground cover on spring-loaded legs. And in the background you may hear the black-throated laughingthrushes Garrulax chinensis and Chinese hwameis Leucodioptron canorum calling back and forth to their mates.

As vibrant and lively as this exhibit is throughout most of the day, things really start to get exciting when the birds hear a keeper approach. Their first clue that it is feeding time is probably when they hear the lock being unlatched. By the time I enter the exhibit, the birds have taken their stations and are ready for their breakfast.

Blue-winged sivas are the smallest birds in the aviary and get fed first.

Blue-winged sivas are the smallest birds in the aviary and get fed first.

When I first enter the exhibit, I am frequently surrounded on three sides with expectant birds. The first to get fed are usually the smallest birds in the exhibit: the blue-winged sivas. These little guys are usually embedded in the nearest foliage, chirping away. They can be hard to find, but when they see me looking for them, they pop their heads out of the foliage and fly out to catch their tossed mealworm. When they both have their breakfast treat, they retire to an upper corner of the exhibit to enjoy their grubs together. Two down, fourteen to go!

The Malay great argus Argusianus argus are usually next. I toss a few peanuts deep into the exhibit. As the male sprints away to hunt down his peanuts, I drop a couple at my feet for the female and her chick to enjoy.

By this time, the male white-rumped shama Copsychus malabaricus is growing impatient, and he is perched about 3 feet in front of my chest, staring straight at me. I toss a few waxworms (moth larvae that look like large maggots—not as gross as it sounds!) into the crook of the tree behind him. The voracious male usually inhales all the insects within reach. Though if he has chicks he is feeding, the male stacks as many bugs into his tweezer-like bill as he can before flying off to care for his chicks.

If I have timed the feeding right, the argus mom and baby have just finished their peanuts and are moseying over to their morning sun bath when the pittas hop over to my feet and declare they want their food—now! A reclusive species notorious for their solitary habits, pittas can fight over their food if they think their mate unfairly stole their worm. By tossing one redworm to my left and one to my right, the pittas about-face and hop to opposite ends of the exhibit, where they can enjoy their treat all by themselves.

After the fairy bluebird catches his third bug in mid-air, and the female shama has darted out from her ground cover to snag a forgotten cricket, the excited mob of birds thins to a mere congenial gathering. This is when the patient laughingthrushes and humble hwameis emerge to land on nearby perches. I toss a few bugs into the leaf litter and let them hop down to kick up their own food. As I finish setting out the morning food pans, I usually leave the exhibit to the pleasant, rhythmic sound of the laughingthrushes and hwameis kicking leaves, tossing twigs, and digging in the dirt in their search for that last, elusive grub.

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, His and Her Massages: Collared Lories.

2

Win a Spot for Lorikeet Landing Tweet-up

Photo by Lisa Diaz

Photo by Lisa Diaz

*PARK ADMISSION REQUIRED FOR NONMEMBERS*

UPDATE 12/26/13: ALL TWEET-UP SPOTS ARE FULL. STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT TWEET-UP!

The Safari Park’s Lorikeet Landing experience now has twice as many birds, resulting in twice as much fun! To celebrate, we’re giving our loyal Twitter followers exclusive access to the exhibit on Saturday, January 4, at 9:30 a.m. before the experience opens. Because of limited capacity, only 20 people will be allowed to join.

Want in on this awesome VIP experience? All you have to do is tweet these exact words starting Friday, December 20, 2013:

Hey @sdzsafaripark I want to go to the #lorikeetlanding tweet-up on January 4th!

The first users to tweet the exact words above (one tweet per user) will win spots for the tweet-up. *By tweeting the above, you confirm that you agree to the terms and conditions below.* Please only enter if you are available to attend the event on the morning of Saturday, January 4, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. The winners will receive a tweet or direct message from @sdzsafaipark with more information on how to claim the prize. Space is limited for this event, so get moving!

Guests are also encouraged to participate in our Lorikeet Landing Instagram Contest, which ends the day after the tweet-up. Simply tag your Instagram photos and videos with #LorikeetLanding for a chance to win a private Balloon Safari for ten.

Terms and Conditions

*PARK ADMISSION REQUIRED FOR NON-MEMBERS*

1. NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Participation constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park Lorikeet Landing Tweet-up Contest (“Contest”) will be held online from 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time (“PT”), December 20, 2013 (“Sweepstakes Start Date”), to 9:00 a.m. PT, January 4, 2014 (“Contest Period”). Contest is sponsored by the Zoological Society of San Diego DBA San Diego Zoo Global (the “Sponsor”) who is solely responsible for all aspects of this Contest.

2. ELIGIBILITY. The Contest is open to legal residents of the United States of America who are 18 years of age or older as of “Contest Start Date.” Sponsor’s employees and their immediate families are not eligible to participate or claim a prize. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. All federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations apply. By participating, entrants agree to abide by all terms of these Official Rules and to the decisions of the judge, and waive any right to claim ambiguity in the Contest or these Official Rules.

3. HOW TO ENTER. 1.) As of 12:00 a.m. PT, December 20, 2013, the entrant must:

a. Have a Twitter® account: If you are not a member, you may sign-up here: http://twitter.com

b. Tweet the specified text: Hey @sdzsafaripark I want to go to the #lorikeetlanding tweet-up on January 4th!

No mechanically reproduced entries will be accepted.

4. INTERNET LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY. If for any reason this Contest is not capable of running as planned due to infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures, or any other causes beyond the control of the Sponsor which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of this Contest, the Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry process, and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest in whole or in part, at any time, without notice and award the prizes using all non-suspect eligible entries received as of this termination date. The Sponsor assumes no responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, communications line failure, theft or destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of, entries. The Sponsor is not responsible for any problems or technical malfunction of any telephone network or telephone lines, computer on-line systems, servers, or providers, computer equipment, software, failure of any e-mail or entry to be received by the Sponsor on account of technical problems, human error or traffic congestion on the Internet or at any Website, or any combination thereof, including any injury or damage to participant’s or any other person’s computer relating to or resulting from participation in this Contest or downloading any materials in this Contest. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEBSITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE CONTEST IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, THE SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES OR OTHER REMEDIES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON (S) RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTEMPT TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. In the event of a dispute as to the identity of a winner based on a Twitter account, the winning entry will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the Twitter account submitted at time of entry. “Authorized account holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to a Twitter account by Twitter Inc.

5. SELECTIONS AND NOTIFICATION OF WINNERS. Winners will be determined by chronological order of entries (first come first serve); the first users to enter earn priority spots. Winners will be notified by Twitter direct message or tweet  and need not be present to win. Only one winner per household. Winners will be required to execute and return an Affidavit of Eligibility/Release of Liability/Publicity Release and completed IRS W-9 form within 30 days of issuance. Winners are solely responsible for all travel costs that might be required to visit the San Diego Zoo. The winner will be disqualified and an alternate winner will be selected if a selected winner fails to comply with these rules, cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim a prize, or fails to return the completed and executed Affidavit and Releases in the stated time period as required, or if the prize notification or prize is returned as undeliverable. Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission to use the winners’ names, likenesses, and statements for promotional and publicity purposes without additional compensation or limitation unless prohibited by law. All decisions of the Sponsor regarding the selection of winners, notification and substitution of winners in accordance with these Official Rules shall be binding and final.

6. PRIZES AVAILABLE. Winners will receive a TBD amount of spots for the Lorikeet Landing tweet-up on January 4, 2014. The prize is not transferable, assignable, or redeemable for cash and if not used will be forfeited.

7. INDEMNIFICATION AND RELEASE. By entering the Contest and participating in any promotions relating thereto, each entrant agrees to release and hold Sponsor, its respective affiliates, subsidiaries, parent companies, officers, directors, shareholders, employees, agents, participating retailers, and any other companies participating in the design, administration, or fulfillment of this sweepstakes and their respective officers, directors, employees, and agents, harmless from any and all losses, rights, claims, injuries, damages, expenses, costs, or actions of any kind resulting in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from participation in this sweepstakes or any sweepstakes-related activity, or acceptance, possession, use or misuse of the prize or parts thereof, including without limitation personal injuries, death, and property damage and claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion of privacy.

8. TAX INFORMATION. All applicable Federal, state and local tax liabilities and any other incidental expenses, fees or costs associated with the receipt or use of any prize are the sole responsibility of the winner.

9. WINNERS LIST. For an Official Winners List (available after January 4, 2014, and through December 31, 2014) or a copy of these Official Rules (PLEASE SPECIFY WHICH), send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: San Diego Zoo Global, P.O. Box 120551, San Diego, CA 92112-0551.

10. SPONSOR. San Diego Zoo Global: P.O. Box 120551 San Diego, CA 92112-0551

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.

 

 

4

Guam Rails Fly Home

Guam rail

The Guam rail Gallirallus owstoni, a small, flightless bird, is extinct in the wild. This species was abundant as recently as the early 1960s, but due to the introduced brown tree snake, the rail is now virtually extinct in its historical range of Guam. As part of the AZA’s (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Species Survival Plan (SSP), several institutions are diligently working to manage this species and work toward reestablishing it in the wild. As of last summer, there were 159 Guam rails in AZA institutions and in captivity on Guam. This number qualifies the Guam rail as a “Yellow” SSP, which means that the population is potentially sustainable but requires careful management to increase its sustainability.

As part of SSP recommendations, the San Diego Zoo’s Bird Department was involved this past March in sending five Guam rails to Guam. The birds we sent are candidates for release into the wild and are genetically diverse additions to the captive population housed on Guam. Our male, whom you may remember along the trail to the old Lory Loop, along with three others from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and one from the San Antonio Zoo, were gathered here to undergo a pre-shipment quarantine period, as all exported birds are required to do. Our zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom have been designated as U.S. quarantine stations for Guam rails. All five birds were housed in mosquito-proof pens at the Zoo’s Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine for their quarantine period. Various health panels were performed by our veterinary staff to ensure the health of the birds prior to shipment.

Shipping procedures were carefully followed according to International Air Transport Association specifications. Crates for the Guam rail were carefully custom made by Dave Durflinger, a carpenter from our Construction and Maintenance Department. Each compartment had special care taken so that the birds would travel in comfort and safety: carpet on the floor, foam on the roof, and mosquito netting over every opening. The mosquito netting is required for birds traveling to any island country so as to prevent mosquitos from traveling along. Jaime Paramo, our resident crate expert, put the final touches on the crate. The Guam rails were traveling in high style!

While all of the pre-ship preparations and health exams were proceeding, the curatorial staff was working hard to take care of all the legal documentation for the shipment, making arrangements for the flights to Guam and arranging the required U.S. Fish and Game inspection of the birds in their crates. Carol Dittmer in the curator’s office even made arrangements with the Honolulu Zoo to check on the birds during their layover in Hawaii. As you can see, it is truly a group effort to get these birds to their destination!

The Guam rails arrived safely at their destination on March 15. I checked with the staff at the facility where the birds are housed: all are currently doing very well. The male that was on Lory Loop is a likely candidate for staying at the station and being part of the resident population. The three birds from the Safari Park are candidates for release into the wild. As the tree snake population on Guam has not been eradicated, the island is still not a safe release site for the species. Currently, the birds are released on the island of Rota, which is similar in habitat to Guam but has no tree snakes, so it is safe for the Guam rail. The bird from the San Antonio Zoo is still quite young, so his status has yet to be determined.

As you can see, sending these birds to Guam is a really big deal. It is a great example of how San Diego Zoo Global is a conservation organization, a demonstration of how our work helps endangered species, and an inspiration to our guests and staff alike to get involved and help endangered wildlife.

Amy Flanagan is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo.

3

Parasites in a Pelican

American white pelicans fly in for a visit to the Safari Park.

We see the really weird stuff here in the Wildlife Disease Laboratories, and that’s why I love my job! As a pathologist, my role is to diagnose disease in our animals and, if possible, figure out its cause so that it can be treated or prevented. On animals that die, we perform a necropsy (the animal equivalent of a human autopsy) to determine the cause of death and monitor the health of the collection. Certain diseases can have serious implications for the individual animals or even for the species as a whole, since so many of the animals we work with are endangered.

But our collection animals are not the only ones we screen for disease. We also examine all wildlife that dies on our grounds, as these animals can act as sentinels for threats to native species as well as to our exotic animals or even to people. Sometimes, however, a disease entity turns up that is so new it presents more questions than answers. Such was a case I had not too long ago that started with a call from Megan Varney, one of our pathology technicians. “You’ve got to see this pelican’s liver!” she says.

The bird was a wild, young female American white pelican that was found dead at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park that morning. This native species with its characteristic pouch can often be seen visiting and enjoying the lakes at the Park. With their big, yellow bills, all-white plumage, and large wingspan (second only to the California condor among North American birds), they are hard to miss! I dash to the necropsy room to see what Megan has found in this one. For a pathologist, it is a truly spectacular sight. The liver, normally a solid brown, is swollen and riddled with yellow spots, not just on its surface but on the inside, too (see cross-section at left), and the spleen has a similar appearance.

Yikes! It looks like something has caused large numbers of cells in the liver and spleen to die, creating the yellow lesions. But what? I run through a list of possible causes in my head, but I have a feeling that this could be something new. To the microscope! Sure enough, looking at slides made from thin sections of liver tissue under the microscope, I can see infectious organisms in the lesions. They appear as pale-purple blobs mixed with the dead pink liver cells.

It is a single-celled organism, a protozoan parasite, but not one with which I am familiar. Thankfully, I am not alone—even our parasitology consultant is stumped! I send tissue to our Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, which can isolate the DNA of this mystery organism by PCR and, we hope, get it identified. Samples of tissue are also sent out to be looked at with an even bigger microscope, an electron microscope. The results of these additional tests agree: the parasite is a flagellate called Tetratrichomonas. Although known to be a parasite of ducks and geese, it has rarely been seen to cause disease, and certainly not in a pelican.

So what does this mean for the other animals at the Safari Park? Thankfully, it appears not much. Several months have passed with no new cases, and this unlucky pelican might turn out to be the only case we ever see. Many questions remain unanswered, though: Why this bird? Where did she get the infection? And what else might be susceptible? We are continuing to investigate these questions and more by working to better characterize this organism. Perhaps we’ve discovered a new strain or species! In the meantime, I will also present this information at a national zoo and wildlife pathology workshop to make others aware. And now that we know what it is, we are on the lookout with heightened surveillance so that we can be prepared for whatever happens next. In this job, it really is something new every day!

Rachel Burns is the Steel Endowed Pathology Fellow, Wildlife Disease Laboratories, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

5

Green Woodhoopoe: Quirky or Clever?

Last week I wrote about two green woodhoopoes that had a curious behavior of feeding other birds (see post Green Woodhoopoe: Nature’s Room Service) Well, I have another story for you; this one involves another male green woodhoopoe feeding another bird that did not want to be fed!

A few weeks ago, my coworker Mark was tossing bugs to a few of the insect eaters in Scripps Aviary at the San Diego Zoo. He had the usual line of characters waiting for a cricket to be tossed their way: the long-tailed hornbill was patiently perched, the white-crowned shrikes made their boisterous appearance, and the racket-tailed roller was sulking on her branch. All was going well when suddenly the woodhoopoe male landed in the crowd of gathered birds. He already had a cricket in his mouth, so Mark could only guess that he might have been looking for his mate to feed. Instead of finding his mate, though, the woodhoopoe inadvertently landed next to the racket-tailed roller. Surprised, the roller turned, opened her mouth, and prepared to roundly scold the woodhoopoe. Only she never got that far—she was interrupted. Before she could berate him, the woodhoopoe had deftly shoved the cricket into her gaping mouth, flown away, and (probably) congratulated himself on a job well done!

Okay, enough of the anecdotes, what’s really going on here? Are green woodhoopoes just oddly obsessed with feeding other animals? The evidence to me suggests “yes!” But there may be a reason nature has given woodhoopoes this quirky characteristic. Woodhoopoes are cooperative breeders; this means that a group of 4 to 8 woodhoopoes (sometimes up to 14 individuals) helps to raise the offspring of just the dominant male and female of the group. Who are these helpers? Frequently, the helpers are the offspring of the breeding male and female. In the wild, the tree-cavity nests woodhoopoes need can be hard to come by. With a lack of nests available, many woodhoopoes help to raise their siblings instead of starting their own family. The helpers may not have the genetic success of breeding, but they do help to increase the success of their genes if they improve the survival rate of their brothers and sisters. As time passes, the helpers may inherit a breeding position from their parents or they may strike out on their own and try to find a mate and a nest.

You can probably guess by now why woodhoopoes have a tendency to feed other birds: these helpers bring a constant supply of food to their siblings! Feeding birds that are neither their offspring nor their mate is not just a quirky characteristic of the green woodhoopoe but also a means of their survival. How cool!

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

5

Sociable Weavers: Amazing Architects

One of the most intriguing species of bird that I have the pleasure of working with is also one of the most overlooked: the sociable weaver. Their exhibit is located in the San Diego Zoo’s Lost Forest, across from the gibbons. It’s easy to pass right by them, since at first glance their appearance is not that impressive. They look very similar to the common house sparrow, so what could be that interesting about them? Please allow me to enlighten you.

Athena checks the sociable weaver nest.

Despite their small size, they are capable of completing an extremely large task. They create the largest communal nest of any bird in the world! These nests are often referred to as “apartment complexes,” as they are used for both roosting and breeding. A single colony nest can weigh up to a ton and may house over a hundred birds. There are several chambers in the nest, and the colony may use it for many generations.

In the interest of being efficient, these birds are constantly communicating with each other and constantly building! You can hear all the chatter as you approach their exhibit. You’ll also notice a large pile of nesting material on the ground that they can pull from throughout the day. As their keeper, it is my job to keep the material coming, and it has been a challenge to provide the proper items.

In the wild they would have access to a variety of plants, and each item they add to the nest serves a different purpose. Sociable weavers prefer rigid material for the roof, chambers are made stable with various dried grasses, access to these chambers are usually surrounded by straw, and the chambers are lined with soft materials (grasses, feathers, cotton, etc.) for comfort. Over the years they have been offered feathers, silk floss, camel hair, small sticks, pine needles, Bermuda hay, and dried grasses. I have worked with this colony for 4½ years now, and I have learned that their favorite items are pine needles, Bermuda hay, and dried Pennisetum grasses. And they certainly keep me busy with the challenge of providing them with plenty of material every day!

Recently the nest was the largest that it has ever been. Due to its ever-increasing size, as well as the weather, portions of the nest have started to fall. This is a natural process, and the birds have already begun investigating other potential nesting locations. They may also choose to repair the areas where chunks of the nest have been lost. Whatever the outcome may be, the colony benefits as they have the opportunity to renew their nest and start with fresh material. A healthy nest helps to maintain a healthy colony of birds.

The next time you’re walking along Monkey Trail in Lost Forest, take a moment to watch these active birds. I’m sure you’ll be impressed by their nest-building skills. And since the San Diego Zoo is home to the only sociable weaver colony in the United States, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see them up close!

Athena Wilson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Welcome to the World, Screamers!

12

Something to Scream About

A sharp, keratinous spur on each wing helps screamers protect themselves by wing slapping and striking with these spurs. Click on images to enlarge.

What are those large, gray birds in the San Diego Zoo‘s Caribbean flamingo exhibit?  They look like turkeys or “raptors on stilts,” as I like to call them.  Interestingly, they are classified into the same scientific order as waterfowl (ducks) but are in their own unique family. There are three different species of screamers, all of which reside in South America.  We are home to a pair of crested screamers Chauna torquata, also known as southern screamers.  They can be heard from far away, and if you are lucky enough to hear them vocalize, you will quickly learn how they got their name. Screamers are excellent swimmers, even though they barely have any webbing on their feet. They can also be very aggressive, and if you have ever seen me in the exhibit speaking loudly at them, telling them to “back-up,” it is not because I am trying to be mean; my intention is to establish my dominance.

Our screamer pair is unique because they have a very romantic story (in my opinion, at least).  First, let me give you a little history about our male. He is approximately 30 years old now! He came to us when he was about a year old in February 1982. He was paired up with a female and together they parented a total of 24 chicks over a span of 8 years from 1988 to 1996. Sadly, his original mate passed away in 1997. In the wild, these birds would live to be anywhere from 10 to 15 years old but can live to be up to 35 years old in zoos.

Will our screamers become parents again?

The male was by himself until one beautiful day in 2008, when we received a young female from the Louisville Zoo. She was a sight to see!  Barely over a year old when she arrived, she still had some reminiscent juvenile plumage but nevertheless was larger and more robust than the male. They were introduced in adjacent pens up at the Zoo’s hospital, and it was love at first sight. They would often be seen standing near each other (still separated by fencing), bill-clapping  to each other, which in screamer language can be interpreted as “I like you.”  This behavior can also be observed on exhibit, and following the bill clapping you can see them preening each other.

As soon as it was apparent that they would get along if put in the same enclosure, they were brought to the Caribbean flamingo lagoon on the Zoo’s front plaza and have been inseparable ever since. The female was not yet reproductively mature, so we did not anticipate breeding for quite some time.  Early last year was the first time we observed copulation; in the bird world, that is the term we use for breeding.  Much excitement followed as the female laid her first egg!  But with the male being at the age he was, we wondered if the eggs could even be fertile.  Their first clutch consisted of two eggs that were laid seven days apart.  Typically, a clutch contains two to six eggs, with an egg being laid every two days.  Both eggs proved to be infertile, so they were pulled from the nest to allow the pair to try again. Shortly after, the female laid five eggs perfectly, each one laid two days after the previous egg.  How exciting! Two of the five eggs hatched, and the female behaved like a seasoned parent with her experienced mate showing her the ropes. They successfully parent-reared one of the two chicks (the other passed away at only two weeks of age due to health complications), and that male will be transferred to another institution soon!

Currently you can observe the crested screamer pair on their nest for their second breeding season together. Six eggs were laid, but only three remain, as the other three were candled and proven infertile or not viable.  The remaining three eggs are due anytime now up until February 14! The pair can be easily viewed from the bridge of the flamingo exhibit, where one of them will be sitting tightly atop a clump of Liriopes at the water’s edge.  If you get the chance to stop by, we hope that all three eggs will hatch, and we can enjoy seeing some of the cutest chicks in the bird world.  A screamer chick looks like a miniature Big Bird from “Sesame Street” with bright yellow down and thick, swollen orange legs. What a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for their keepers and the Bird Department!

Athena Wilson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

1

Winter Camp 2010

Papagayo demonstrates her nut-cracking ability.

Despite the downpour of rain on San Diego this week, Winter Camp at the San Diego Zoo is off to a GREAT start! Campers can come to the Zoo for one day or more, and each day brings something exciting and new. Camp is open to kids in grades K–5. This year’s theme—The Winter Express—takes us to stops throughout the Zoo.

My name is Kim, and I am the teacher for the kindergarten class this year. We have had quite a good time so far. On Monday we learned all about how animals eat. We met a scarlet macaw named Papagayo that uses her strong beak to crack open nuts and rip apart fruits and played games with Roberta, a digital puppet that looks like a cartoon but can see you, talk to you, and answer your questions, too. We made a snowman snaft (snack-craft) using powdered donuts, a licorice scarf, and chocolate chip eyes before visiting the reindeer that live at Polar Bear Plunge. Keeper Tammy even coaxed Boris, the baby reindeer, out into the open for us to see.

On Tuesday, we boarded our own private bus to the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. On the way, campers spotted the locomotion of creatures all over the Zoo: we saw swinging, jumping, running, huddling, stretching, flying, catching, and snuggling. Our destination was the Elephant Care Center, where zookeeper Nora talked to us about Tembo, the African elephant. We got to see Tembo do a training session; boy, is she BIG! In the afternoon we met an armadillo named Cocoa, a snake, and a hedgehog named Thula. We also made a sock snake to take home using a sock, recycled paper, googly eyes, and a red paper tongue.

Wednesday was “Expert Eyes.” We took another bus (our taxi in the rain) to see Jama, the north Chinese leopard. Zookeeper Karen talked to us about his eyesight and all of his other amazing adaptations. We got to see him munch on his meat. We then met a screech owl named Ohos, saw a Dr. Zoolittle magic show, and took a stroll through Discovery Outpost. Our favorite sights were the otter cave and the naked mole-rat exhibit. Campers went home with a lot of goodies today: a reindeer game, 101 Things to Do at the San Diego Zoo booklet, and a homemade frame with a camp picture from our trip to the big cats.

Today’s theme is “Hanging Around.” We are heading to the koala exhibit to go behind the scenes. I bet we’ll meet a koala up close! I can’t wait.

Come join in on the fun! There are still spots available for next week’s Winter Camp.

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Behind the Scenes with Birds.

1

Behind the Scenes with Birds

Eurasian eagle owl Einstein poses with a trainer.

The Inside Look: Festival of Flight bird tours were a wild and wonderful way to see the San Diego Zoo in action last month. I am an educator who leads behind-the-scenes adventures at the Zoo. Our bird tour experiences were so unique this year that I was as excited as the guests to experience our special animal interactions! The Zoo’s bird collection is incredible and includes almost 400 species and subspecies, which comes to about 3,500 individual birds. During our special tours, we got to spend some time with our feathered friends and meet the keepers who keep them happy, healthy, and entertained.

These tours were spectacular for bird enthusiasts and general animal lovers alike. After catching the toucan presentation on the front plaza, we whizzed off in our VIP cart (a stretch golf cart) to the Wegeforth Bowl show area to meet Julia, an animal trainer with the Behavior Department. She brought out Einstein the Eurasian eagle owl (one of our animal ambassadors), an impressive bird with a nearly 5-foot wingspan. Once guests had a chance to get a photo with our superstar, we took a back road to our next stop. Along the way, guests got a peek at our horticulture backlot and the headquarters of our Bird Department.

We sped up Eagle Hill and checked out the polar bears swimming and splashing in the pool. Our tour made its way to the diving ducks Arctic bird exhibit in Polar Bear Plunge to meet with a bird keeper. For this special event, the keeper did a cricket and fish toss, which had never been done before with this particular group of birds. In fact, the keepers were not even sure the ducks would react to the fish or know what to do. To our delight, the birds dove deep into the water, chasing after the fish and showing off their amazing aquatic abilities.

A condor puppet grooms a California condor chick.

Next it was on to the California condor exhibit, where we met with bird keeper Amelia. We got a sneak peek at the condor back holding area as the condor boys curiously perched on top of the rocks above us. Amelia showed the guests condor flight feathers and the condor glove developed to feed chicks in captivity. She then placed a delicious condor breakfast of cow spleen and rat in the exhibit, and we watched the condors descend on the food, ripping it to shreds. We got a chance to see the social hierarchy of these amazing birds as they sparred for first dibs.

Our tour continued with a visit to the fabulous Matilda, a laughing kookaburra that lives next to the koala barn. Guests got to trill with her and watch her display her natural behaviors, including smashing a pinecone against a branch (this simulates breaking up the bones of a lizard or rodent, her natural prey).

A tour particpant feeds a flamingo.

Last but not least, we motored off to Urban Jungle, where animal trainers Kelly and Krista of the Zoo’s Backstage Pass program were there to meet us. Our finale included a trainer-led experience at the flamingo pond, where guests got to feed soggy wet dog food held in red cups to the pretty pink birds. Guests smiled and took photos as the flamingos mingled from red cup to red cup. Some guests who sat on the grass even ended up getting their hair restyled by the flamingos. Those glamour girls (and boys) love to groom!

Our Festival of Flight Bird Tours were a blast. We are gearing up for this month’s special Inside Look: Jungle Bells, Jungle Tour tours. These special experiences will feature jungle animals from sloth bears and jaguar to tigers and okapis. Guests will also have an up-close photo opportunity with an animal ambassador. As with all of our programs, participating in these tours helps support our Zoo-wide conservation efforts. We thank you for coming along!

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, How to Handle a Hedgehog.