Gentoos, Hamerkops, Rollers and Turacos

August 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  Well it has been a while since the zoo blog caught up with the penguin section so this week we have an update on what has been happening since the hatching of all those chicks!  

  Most of the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) chicks have now moved out of the main enclosure, with the exception of one who hatched out a little later than the others.  Now that the chicks have grown out of their fluffy downy grey feathers and have come into their grown up (and waterproof!) feathers the keepers have moved them into the ‘creche’ which is the smaller enclosure next to the main one.  This is done to allow the chicks to become more independent.  In the wild penguin chicks would also crèche together so it is all a part of growing up for a penguin.  Allowing the chicks to crèche away from the adults not only gives the parents a break from the constant demands for food from their offspring (the chicks by this point will happily feed from the keepers) but it also gives the chicks chance to learn new skills such as how to swim!  While they are in the crèche the chicks are sexed (by taking a blood sample) and micro-chipped before they return to the adult pool. 

Both our adults and chicks have been busy growing new feathers!

  If you have been to the zoo recently you may also notice that our adult gentoos are looking a little on the scruffy side.  This is because they are moulting; where their old feathers are replaced by brand new ones!  Moulting requires a lot of extra energy, not only do the birds grow an entirely new set of feathers but for a while they actually have two layers of feathers to carry around as they won’t moult their old feathers until the new feathers have grown in underneath! For gentoo penguins this moult takes place after their breeding season, a time when they don’t have the extra energy expenses of courtship or chick rearing. While they are moulting a penguin’s feathers are no longer waterproof and so they remain out of the water until they have moulted and the extra feathers and energy requirements mean that during this time they usually prefer to take it easy and not do anything too demanding. 

  There has also been plenty of courtship, nest building and chick rearing going on in the African Aviary lately.  The Hamerkops, Lilac-breasted rollers and Violet turacos have all had chicks! 

  The Hamerkops (Scopus umbretta) have had two chicks which hatched out at the start of July.  Hamerkops are known for their impressive nest-building abilities, they build a huge sphere shaped hollow nest which is up to 2 metres in diameter and made out of woven sticks.  An entrance leads into a chamber deep inside the nest which allows plenty of protection from the elements for the parents and their chicks!  

Hamerkops make some pretty impressive looking nests!


  In the wild Hamerkops are native to Africa and Madagascar and can inhabit many different habitats although they need to be near water as their diet mainly consists of small water-dwelling animals such as amphibians, fish, crustaceans and insects.  Their reliance on wetland habitats does however mean that they are under threat from habitat deterioration as a result of pesticide use in agriculture.  

  The pair of lilac-breasted rollers (Coracias caudate) have also had huge success this year, they have already reared one chick and now they have more chicks on the nest which are close to fledging!  These birds nest in holes in trees and both parents help to rear the chicks. 

In the wild these birds are known to take advantage of bush fires by catching prey that is trying to escape from the fire

  Lilac-breasted rollers get their name from their courtship display in which they dive from height performing a rolling motion while making loud vocalisations.  These birds have fantastic colouration with a green head, white chin, lilac breast, blue belly, brown back and violet flight feathers.  Their diet is extremely varied and can consist of amphibians, insects, crustaceans and small birds! 

  It’s also extremely good news for our pair of Violet turacos (Musophaga violacea)!  This pair were only put together last year and this is the first breeding season during which they could produce offspring.  Since their introduction they have got along great which shows as this year they have already reared two chicks which hatched out in May, these two have now fledged and can be seen out and about in their enclosure.  Keepers think that the parents could even attempt another clutch before the end of the season! 

It can take until they are a year old for young violet turacos to have this striking adult colouration


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