Written by bird keeper Danny Keel
It’s the time of the year for the Houston Zoo’s endangered Easter egg hunt egg-stravaganza! This year’s contributors are eighteen proud Attwater’s Prairie Chicken females. They represent the most endangered species of bird in Texas with less than one hundred in the wild. The zoo houses these wonderful birds at the Johnson Space Center, giving the birds enough peace and quiet to be comfortable.
Each hen has a feisty male on her side to ensure that each egg is fertilized. The males have a most unique appearance during the breeding season. Bold orange eyebrows are accentuated by bilateral air sacs that the males inflate during a breeding display. The display starts with the male stomping both feet on the ground quickly, and it is punctuated by a loud booming sound.
Now to the egg hunt! The hens have a lush playing field giving them plenty of great hiding spots for their nests. It’s possible to walk right by a nest and never know it’s there! The hens are very good at hide and seek.
Each female loves to nest usually under some overhanging grass or shrubbery. The nest is usually lined with grass, but they will use leaves or it could even just be on dirt. Hens can lay up to thirty eggs in a breeding season, leading to a prolonged Easter egg hunt! Sometimes, the hens will even lay eggs outside their nest, adding a touch of excitement to the hunt (we step carefully when checking for eggs – since we really don’t want any suprises).
The zoo has twenty-two flights for the hens to lay eggs in. When I woke up this morning, I knew they would make this Easter egg hunt special. I searched and searched, looking from pen to pen. The hens did a really good job hiding this year! After a spell, I finally was able to locate a nest.
Jackpot! I must have walked past this nest six times. The game isn’t finished now though, I had to get the eggs back to the zoo. I use a nice cooler with padding to carefully drive the eggs the 26 miles back to the zoo.
At that point, the eggs are incubated at the zoo, then seasoned staff cares for the young and prepare them for release in the summer!