Birds, birds, birds!

May 27, 2009 § Leave a comment


As May draws to a close, and we experience some of the warmest temperatures of the year so far the zoo has been bustling with visitors. Here’s what’s been happening with the animals.

Fourty-five gentoo penguin chicks have now hatched out. Some of the larger chicks can be seen venturing a little way off their nests now, and the keepers are beginning to hand feed some of them ‘whitebait’. There are still new hatchlings appearing each day so watch out for tiny ones hiding beneath their parent’s bellies.

 A stone catches the attention of one adventurous chick!

A stone catches the attention of one adventurous chick!

No matter how hard a young penguin might try, they still can’t fly! 

No matter how hard a young penguin might try, they still can’t fly!

 And getting back on the nest can be quite tricky!

And getting back on the nest can be quite tricky!

The ‘Bird section’ has been very busy of late with many of our seasonal breeders doing their best to contribute to the conservation breeding program of their species. The Socorro doves in the aviary opposite the Rhino house have been observed nesting. This is excellent news as the survival of this ‘Extinct in the Wild’ species depends solely on the captive breeding program.

Socorro doves are small brown birds, easily by-passed by many visitors. They became extinct on their native island of ‘Socorro’ over 30 years ago. Introduced animals such as feral cats, rats and sheep were to blame for the demise of this species, as they preyed on the doves and degraded their habitat. Since then, collections throughout Europe have worked together to coordinate a captive breeding program which has built this species up from a handful of captive individuals, to a healthy and diverse captive population. This is a very real example of the fantastic conservation work that zoos can contribute to.

More recently, some of the European population (including a group from Edinburgh Zoo) have been moved over to an American Zoo in Albuquerque. This was the first step in a reintroduction programme for the Socorro dove. The island of Socorro, off the west coast of Mexico, is currently preparing to welcome back this long lost bird, and we hope to see this happen sometime in the foreseeable future. Special aviaries are currently being constructed which will allow the reintroduced birds to acclimatise to conditions on the island. If this step proves successful, it is hoped that the birds can then be fully released and reintroduced to their native home land. Steps are also being taken to eradicate the feral cats and sheep which caused the Socorro doves all the problems in the first place!

The continued breeding of this species at Edinburgh is encouraging (we have bred several chicks in the past), and we hope that their current nesting behaviour will result in some eggs being laid, and perhaps some chicks hatching! We currently have 3 Socorro doves on show in the Rhino Walk Aviaries (2 females and 1 male), all of whom are around 5 years old and in peak breeding condition! Fingers crossed for a clutch of eggs to be laid very soon.

 The Socorro Dove, extinct in the wild

The Socorro Dove, extinct in the wild

The Steller’s sea eagles have also been displaying some positive behaviours this season. Orlan, the 6 year old female, is now mature and can be distinguished by her size (she is at least a third larger than the male) and the complete white bands of feathers across her wings (indicating her maturity). Caspian, the 5 year old male, is on the cusp on maturity, but perhaps still a little young to produce offspring. He can be distinguished by the patchy white feathers across his wings. As he matures he will gain the complete white band of feathers on his wings that Orlan already exhibits. Due to Caspian’s age, we would not expect the Steller’s sea eagles to lay any eggs this year (although we won’t rule it out!). However, it seems that they have already been practicing some courtship and nest-building behaviours, such as bowing and vocalising to each other and carrying twigs about. These behaviours are very promising, and indicate that the pair are getting along well, and are keen to begin breeding.

Steller’s sea eagles are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN redlist and face a variety of threats in the wild, including habitat loss, poisoning, persecution, and disturbance of their prey species through over-fishing and hydro-electric power schemes. The wild population is currently in decline, and so it is as important as ever to breed this species in captivity. The captive population is small, with only around 65 individuals kept in captivity. Our pair is one of only two pairs of Steller’s sea eagles kept in Britain, and none have yet successfully bred in this country. We are very hopeful that our pair will be able to contribute to the captive population and help to safeguard this species for the future.

Look out for courting and nest-building behaviours if you happen to pass by the eagles, and we will keep you updated on any progress.

 Orlan (behind) is much larger than Caspian (to the front)

Orlan (behind) is much larger than Caspian (to the front)

The Chilean flamingos have also begun to show some positive nesting behaviours, adding to the ‘keeper-built’ nests at the bottom of their enclosure, themselves. They obviously wanted to put their own touches to the nest site before committing to any breeding! We can now also confirm that at least 1 egg has been laid on the nest site, and we have our fingers crossed for lots more! We currently have 32 flamingos in our flock, 10 of which are female, and 22 of which are male, ranging from the ages of 11 to 38! Chilean flamingos can live up in to their fifties and will become progressively pinker throughout their lives (their colour is therefore an indicator of age). This is because flamingos obtain their pink colouring from the carotene in their diet (obtained from things like algae and shrimp), so the more they eat, the pinker they become!

Look out for courtships behaviours if you are visiting the zoo such as synchronized ‘dancing’, preening, neck stretching and honking, as well as nest building and eggs! Of course, we must remember that eggs do not automatically mean chicks, as many eggs are infertile. But this is a promising start to the flamingo breeding season, and we have high hopes for the flock.

 The flock of flamingos

The flock of flamingos


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