Thursday, June 18, 2009

White-faced Whistling Ducks

There are eight clearly defined whistling-ducks in the world today. I say clearly defined because, due to some anatomical and behavioral similarities, the African white-backed duck is considered a close relative.

For now, I’d like to introduce you to a species that is found in both our South American and African aviaries. The white-faced whistling duck can be easily recognized from other waterfowl species thanks to their (surprise!) white face, black nape and distinctive whistle-like calls. Only the fulvous whistling-ducks’ distribution can compete with the white-faces’, whose range includes most of South America, Africa and Madagascar. They inhabit open wetlands – not forests or wooded areas – and prefer to perch on flat land surfaces instead of trees.

White-faced whistling-ducks have stable numbers in the wild. In fact, they often gather in huge flocks of thousands of birds on the S.A. llanos. During the rainy season, the white-face tend to make their nests in the long grasses and reeds in marshlands, though they will occasionally use tree hollows or low forks. Parents are very protective of their young, often feigning injury to lead potential predators away from their offspring.

All whistling-ducks are basically built the same with slender, almost upright bodies and long, lanky legs. Although some species do comfortably perch in trees (hence the name "tree-duck,") others rarely do. But all the species, however, are very vocal and do have distinctive, high-pitched "whistle-like" calls. These melodic vocalizations have endeared them to aviculturists, and all eight species have been bred in captive collections.

On your next visit to the Park, be sure to stop in either the South American or African aviary and take a few minutes to find these personable birds!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Babies are Hatching at the Park!

Spring has sprung, summer has begun and love is in the air at SHWP. Everywhere you look, pairs are nesting and babies are hatching. Here is a look at some of our most exciting hatches at the Park…

First and foremost, we are proud to announce the successful hatching of a lesser flamingo chick. This past winter, pairs were enclosed in the exhibit’s breeding area, a small building located in the back. This "love nest" has proven to be especially important for the successful breeding of lesser flamingos in captivity. The area was thoughtfully designed by our General Curator, Brad Hazelton, to encourage the pairs to nest.

In the wild, flamingos nest in HUGE colonies, sometimes with up to a million birds! So to simulate this huge number in captivity, the walls of the nesting area is lined with mirrors. The nest area itself is composed of a nice muddy area, which the birds work with their beaks and feet to form mud mounds on which they lay a single egg. Temperature, lighting, and humidity were carefully monitored and at the beginning of May, the animal care staff was rewarded for their efforts with the hatching of the Park’s first lesser flamingo chick.

It is very rare for birds to breed the first year in new captive surroundings, and it is a credit to the Sylvan Heights staff that this chick was produced. The chick and its parents are now on display in the main exhibit area and we hope you all get a chance to stop by and get a closer look!

Also, a pair of masked lapwings (Vanellus miles) in our Australia exhibit has successfully hatched 4 eggs. Found throughout northern, central, and eastern Australia, these birds may nest at any time of the year when the conditions are favorable. Both sexes work at building the nest, which is a simple scrape in the ground away from any vegetation. Egg incubation and chick-rearing duties are also shared by both parents. The precocial chicks are able to leave the nest and feed on their own within just a few hours of hatching. To get a look at these tiny and adorable chicks, visit our Australian exhibit, where they can be found wandering close to their parents. But they grow up fast, so don’t wait too long!

The park also has a number of nesting ducks, swans and geese. In particular, the park’s swans have been a big crowd-pleaser. Visitors have enjoyed watching the fuzzy little cygnets that have hatched from our pairs of black-necked swans, whooper swans and black swans. If you happen to see a pair on the water with babies, be sure to check the parent’s back as sometimes the cygnets get a bit sleepy and like to take a little ride!