Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part III

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

The bird room for native birds who are being relocated to islands without the invasive brown tree snake

When the birds come in from the field, it’s time for some important record-keeping. The birds are banded, weighed, and their wings, legs, and tails are measured. They are also given a physical to make sure they are in good body condition. We check for signs of nesting as well (such as a bare spot on their belly). Each bird gets a metal band with a unique number engraved on it. This helps us to identify each bird and more easily keep track of them as we feed and monitor their condition.  Below are several photos of the process for both the fruit dove and the rufous fantail that we met in the previous blog entry.

Measuring the tarsometatarsus length
Measuring primary feathers
Measuring tail feathers
Checking feather quality
Measuring tarsometatarsus length
Banding the birds-putting small tags on the birds for identification purposes

After they receive their physical they are placed in their own individual box. The dove boxes are larger than the boxes for the fantails because they are much larger birds. They will then travel to Guguan (another island in the Mariana region). This travel time also gives us a chance to collect feather, blood, and fecal samples in order to determine sex and the stress level of every bird. Disney Animal Kingdom sends a team from their veterinary clinic to collect these samples for a study they are doing on cortisol (stress hormone) levels. I will go more in depth on the process of the medical exams next time.

Dove boxes
Fantail boxes

Every day the fruit doves are fed a mixture of papaya, Kaytee exact high fat formula, and water. This is done three times a day. The rufous fantails get fed meal worms and flies four times a day. The idea is to have them eat consistently to ensure they are as healthy as possible throughout their journey.

Next time we will see our rufous fantail friend get a medical exam.

Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part II

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

Field days are long and hot. In this blog entry I will walk you through a typical day in the field. With lots of photos!

We wake up at 4:00 am to be ready to head out to the field by 4:45 am. We get to our site at 5:15 am and unload the gear for the day and start opening the mist nets (a net used by ornithologists and biologists to safely gather birds for research and conservation purposes). At 6:15 all the nets should be open and then we wait. Nets are checked every 15-20 minutes for birds. All non-target birds (those birds we are not relocating as part of this conservation effort) are released immediately.

Mist nets are used for to safely catch birds for research and conservation. Here is our team setting up the nets for Mariana fruit doves.
Ellen, a Toledo Zoo staff member safely removes a wild bird from the mist net. Trained zookeepers who work with birds daily assist with this task due to their extensive background and training in handling birds.
A Mariana fruit dove
Birds are transported to a transport crate using soft cloth bags.
These transport crates are used to safely move birds.

There is a second field site for a different bird species, the Rufous fantails. The nets used for this species are not as tall and the mesh is also smaller. The fantails weigh about 8 grams while doves weigh about 75 grams.

Another mist netting site, setup to locate another species of bird, called the Rufous fantail.
Each bird is kept safe in a labeled cloth bag before it is moved to a transport crate.
Transport boxes for the birds.
Each label from the cloth bags is placed on the transport crate to identify the individual bird.

Flies are then collected and put in the box for the bird to eat. The fantails are very active birds and need to eat constantly. We catch flies by placing buckets over a tray of fish. If only you could smell through the internet!

Collecting flies for the birds to eat.
Modified petri dishes are used to collect the flies. The petri dishes are then placed in the box with the bird and the lid is removed quickly so that the flies don’t escape.

Someone makes runs out to both field sites to pick up birds every few hours to take them to the holding room.

At about 4:45 pm we will close up the nets and head back into town.

Next time I’ll tell you what happens to both this fantail and dove when they get to the “bird room”!

Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (Part 6)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

An educational opportunity in Tinian.

With just a few more days to go here on the island of Tinian, we had an opportunity to talk to the students (ALL of them!) in the local elementary school. They came in two groups, k-3 and 4-6, of about 140 students each.

Two members of our group, Fields Falcone from Memphis Zoo and Ellen Gorrell from the Toledo Zoo put together a great PowerPoint program covering the birds of the island, why they were endangered and what we were doing, as well as what the kids could do to help.

Fields Falcone discussing native birds with local school kids.
Fields Falcone discussing native birds with local school kids.

We had a demonstration net to show how we trap the birds, as well as transport boxes so we could explain the process of moving them to their new home. Josh Minor, a member of the education team at the Toledo Zoo, did a great job talking to the kids and getting the concepts across to them. The children were interested in the birds from their home, some of which they never see if they don’t go into the forest. The older children especially were interested in the process, and wanted to know why we would come from so far to do this. It was a chance to share my love of birds and my concern and fear that we may lose these wonderful animals.

Josh Minor highlighting the need to conserve these birds, found nowhere else on the planet!
Josh Minor highlighting the need to conserve these birds, found nowhere else on the planet!

It was also a chance to raise awareness of the fact that these birds are from nowhere else on the planet, and that it is possible that we could lose them. Josh actually ran into one of the kids in the grocery store the next day, and he said “I’m not going to eat birds any more”! So the information did get across!

Conservation work isn’t just something that’s done directly with the animals. Raising awareness of the problem and the threat to the animals, encouraging children to learn what they can about the birds and what they can do to help (like plant a tree), is just as much a part of the work as the translocation of the birds. It was good this year to have a part in both.

Audience at the local school.
Audience at the local school.

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Rare Bird Hatches at the Zoo

Our newest hatchling is a Victoria crowned pigeon, hatched Jan. 24.  The party-hatted, blue knockout can be seen with its parents in the Birds of the World section of the zoo. While the gender of the bird is still unknown, the bird has a brother who hatched Dec. 21, 2015.
vic pig

vic pig2The first chick was hatched out by keepers after the parents abandoned the egg. He is currently being hand-raised behind-the-scenes by the zoo’s expert bird keepers.  While they can fly, the extinction-vulnerable Victoria crowned pigeons are ground-dwellers and native to the island of New Guinea. Victoria crowned pigeons are also monogamous, and typically mate for life.

 

11,000 Trees Planted for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker!

The Houston Zoo is proud to protect wildlife both locally and globally. This past Saturday, Houston Zoo staff as well as Dallas Zoo staff and volunteers, in partnership with the National Park Service, planted long-leaf pine seedlings to reforest an area in the Big Thicket National Preserve. In just one day, we planted 11,000 trees! This is a new one-day planting record, and we’re proud to participate in such an important activity!

Houston Zoo and Dallas Zoo at the long-leaf pine planting in the Big Thicket!
Houston Zoo and Dallas Zoo at the long-leaf pine planting in the Big Thicket!
2 stages of long-leaf pine growth.
2 stages of long-leaf pine growth.
Taking a lunch break before continuing to plant!
Taking a lunch break before continuing to plant!

Long-leaf pine trees are a critical habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This woodpecker prefers the long-leaf pine trees because the trees often suffer from red heart disease, a fungus which attacks the center of the trunk and causes the inside of the tree to be very soft. This allows the red-cockaded woodpecker to easily create cavities inside the tree to use as shelter!

Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Audubon.
Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Audubon.

We spent the majority of the day working in teams of 2. One person held a bag of long-leaf pine seedlings, while the other person used a tool called a dibbler which digs a hole the exact size of the seedling. So, as one person used the dibbler to make holes in the ground, the other teammate followed along behind planting the seedlings in the holes. It was a very effective method, which allowed us to get to the new one-day planting record in the area of 11,000 trees!

Houston Zoo staff member, Alex, using a dibbler to make holes.
Houston Zoo staff member, Alex, using a dibbler to make holes.
Zoo staff member, Andrea, places long-leaf pine seedlings in the ground.
Zoo staff member, Andrea, places long-leaf pine seedlings in the ground.

These trees will take nearly 80 years to grow before the red-cockaded woodpecker will use them for shelter. They are slow growing trees which can live more than 300 years! The decline in long-leaf pine trees occurred because of human development, agriculture, and timber production. It is critical that we protect this important habitat for our local species. You can take action by participating in a local planting effort-keep an eye out on the Zoo website and blog for the next event!

Zoo staff member, John, next to a growing long-leaf pine tree.
Zoo staff member, John, next to a growing long-leaf pine tree.
Our conservation partners in Madagascar do similar planting activities to save lemurs!
In 2015, the Houston Zoo’s conservation partners in Madagascar conducted similar tree-planting activities to save lemurs!

Extremely Rare Parrot Hatches at the Zoo

2015_St._Vincent_Parrot_Chick-0017-78_daysOn May 24, 2015 the Houston Zoo’s flock got a little larger.  The zoo is proud to announce the addition of a male St. Vincent Amazon parrot, Mustique Springer. The tiny bird weighed only 16.69 grams when hatched and now is standing a proud 510 grams. The bird derives his full name from Mustique Island, which is off the coast of his native St. Vincent, and from the late Fitzroy Springer who dedicated his life to the conservation of this species. The chick is named in his memory and will go by Springer for short.

A team of bird keepers at the zoo have been hand raising Springer behind-the-scenes since he poked through his shell, providing round-the-clock care in the first few weeks following his hatching. This included taking Springer home with them and waking up every few hours to keep with his strict feeding schedule.

“Hand-rearing a bird is a time consuming process,” said Chris Holmes, assistant curator of birds and Springer’s main caretaker. “Life revolves around the chick’s feeding schedule and sometimes you forget to feed yourself! It is very rewarding to know that the chick you are investing so much time in could live for hopefully 40 or more years.”

2015_St._Vincent_Chick-0002-8_days

Like many other species that call the Houston Zoo home, the St. Vincent Amazon parrot has a special history with the zoo. In 1972, the Houston Zoo became the first institution to successfully hatch the species. Springer is the fourth chick hatched at the Houston Zoo and the first male since 1972. The last chick to be hatched was a female, Vincent, in 2008. Springer’s birth is significant in more ways than one. His mother, Baliceaux, was also hatched at the Houston Zoo in 1999 and Springer’s birth marks the first time a Houston Zoo hatched bird has reproduced. The St. Vincent Amazon parrot is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated 734 remaining in the wild based on a 2004 census, however their population is slowly increasing. Being the national bird of St. Vincent Island and the Grenadines, the parrots are native to the forested mountains of these Caribbean Islands. Although they are characterized by their unique multi-colored feathers, Springer was born with whitish down and will continue to get more colorful as he matures.

2015_St._Vincent_Parrot_Chick-0016-78_days

Springer will need to be a bit older before making his public debut in a few years. Guests can see the four other St. Vincent Amazon parrots already in public view at the Houston Zoo in Birds of the World.

Working with Pacific Bird Conservation (Conclusion)

Steve Howard is in the Northern Mariana Islands, working with Pacific Bird Conservation to protect birds and blogging about his experience.

This post was written by Steve Howard


Transport boxes that will be used when the birds are translocated.
Transport boxes that will be used when the birds are translocated.

The adventure ends.

Today I left Tinian for Saipan, where I’ll spend the night before heading home. As of this morning, the goal of catching 50 Bridled White Eyes was met, and we were close to 50 Tinian Monarchs. In the coming days they’ll close up the nets and load the birds they have on a boat (one, frankly, which doesn’t look all that seaworthy) and take them to Guguan, an island which is a 14 hour boat ride north. Once there, the transport boxes will be strapped to backpack frames and hauled up the hill in the center of the island on people’s backs. Once in the appropriate habitat the boxes will be opened, and new populations of two threatened species will be founded.

From habitat loss to the introduction of the brown tree snake, humans have done a lot to affect the animals of the Mariana Islands. This time, the affect was positive. I’m grateful to have played my part.

One last thought. I fly tomorrow to Guam, then Tokyo, then Houston. I leave Tokyo at 4:45 Saturday afternoon, and get to Houston at 2:30 Saturday afternoon. I just can’t wrap my head around that!!

Working with Pacific Bird Conservation (Part 6)

Steve Howard is in the Northern Mariana Islands, working with Pacific Bird Conservation to protect birds and blogging about his experience.

This post was written by Steve Howard


Before I came to Tinian, I read about using mist nets to trap birds. I imagined a small net put in a quiet corner forest while we watched to see if birds went in. Not so much. It turns out there is a LOT of work involved.

This is a good spot for a lane
This is a good spot for a lane

The nets are large – 18 to 36 feet long and 8 feet high, and if the forest is at all dense, which this forest is, a space must be cleared for the net. First, you have to cut a path through the forest, all the time looking for a good spot to put up a net. The undergrowth has to be cleared and fallen braches removed in order to make a trail. When an open spot can be found where a net can be put up with a minimum of clearing, you cut a “lane” to make room for the net. Once the lane is cleared, the net is strung on two poles, usually fly fishing poles that telescope together, and the poles are secured with cord tied to tress or roots

The lane has been cleared and the net put up
The lane has been cleared and the net put up

Then you continue to cut the path and look for another spot to make a lane. It’s hot and humid in the forest, and there is very little breeze. In there, hacking with a machete and cutting things out of the way with a saw is hot, hard and tiring work. I have blisters on my feet, and my arms and legs are scratched up and sore. And I love it!!!

The birds that we catch will start a new population on another island. This will help to protect a vulnerable animal from extinction. All my life I have been sad to think of the extinction an animal as beautiful as these birds. Now, I have the chance to do something about it, directly. So, for all the hard work and blisters, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything!!

Working with Pacific Bird Conservation (Part 5)

Steve Howard is in the Northern Mariana Islands, working with Pacific Bird Conservation to protect birds and blogging about his experience.

This post was written by Steve Howard


Two of the species we have trapped are the Rufous Fantail and the Tinian Monarch. The thing is, they both like flies. It’s very important to give the birds a diet as close to what they ate in the wild as possible. So where do you get the flies? Well, you start with tuna.

fly trap 2Here’s how it goes: you take a large metal tray about 4 inches deep and put two whole tuna in it. You take a 10 gallon bucket and cut the bottom off, turning it into a tube. Then set it over the tray. You take some window screen and make a large cone out of it, as big across as the 10 gallon bucket, then cut a small hole in in the point. You now have a fly funnel. Tape the funnel to the top of another bucket and push it inward so that it points to the bottom. Then put the bucket with the funnel upside down on top of the “tube bucket” that’s over the tuna. Wait. Flies will gather, and fly up into the tube and onto the screen and get trapped in the bucket.

fly dish fillingNow, here’s the trick. How do you get them into the cage with the bird? Take a small plastic petri dish with a lid on it, and drill a small hole on the bottom. Pull the funnel so that it is now pointing at the sky, and put the hole in the petri dish over the hole in the funnel and wait. Soon the dish will be full of flies. Place the dish in the cage, pull off the lid and quickly shut the door. Voila, that’s all it takes!!

That and a strong stomach for the smell!

Working with Pacific Bird Conservation (Part 4)

Steve Howard is in the Northern Mariana Islands, working with Pacific Bird Conservation to protect birds and blogging about his experience.

This post was written by Steve Howard


We started netting birds on Thursday afternoon, which means my education on how to extract birds from the net began as well. Mist nets are made of very small nylon thread, which makes them almost invisible, especially in low light levels. When a bird flies into it, they become tangled in the mesh, and removing them takes some skill. The bird must be removed from the same direction from which it entered the net, as the net is designed to not let the bird fly through it. Attempting to pull the bird through the net will injure it. The mesh should be removed from the feet first, then the wings, then the head – basically in the opposite order that it entered the net. I wasn’t great at it at first, but I think I’m getting the hang of it! I removed several birds today by myself.

3 Honey extractedAll the birds here are beautiful, but by far the most beautiful (to my mind) is the Micronesian Honey Eater. The feathers on the back and head are flame red and they shine in the sun as it flies by. To see one of these up close is a great privilege. We have collected a pair that will go to the Guam Zoo. This species lived on Guam before the Brown Tree Snake showed up, and to have it back, even if it is just a pair in the zoo, is very exciting for the staff of the zoo. Who knows, someone may see them there, learn the story, and decided to take action!

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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Is this the one that had the limp?

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.

Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this: RainbowBridge Author Unknown Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Jaguar habitat is in the Zoo or Jungle's? ??or is only entertainments for person's? ??$$$$$$$!.Sorry animals the person's don't love you ..

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

Aww I’m so sorry for the loss, I’ve seen him many times, he was absolutely gorgeous! I’m glad that you guys were able to make him comfortable, sometimes the best thing we can do is let them be at peace. Will miss this handsome guy; play hard at the Rainbow Bridge friend, day hi to my cat, Junior for me!! Much love to the HZI staff!!

Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️

Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.

Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️

What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.

Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.

So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received

I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.

Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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