2018 Year of the Bird
National Geographic celebrates 2018 as the Year of the Bird. At Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, not only do we have an excellent collection of exotic birds, we are also proud of the native bird species found on Zoo grounds. It’s a great place to bird watch!
FACT: 222 bird species worldwide are now critically endangered. According to the latest IUCN Red List update, 13% of the world’s bird species are now threatened.
by Misty Minar, Horticulturist
We use our botanical collection to help attract a variety of birds found in this area. Usually known for our unusual and exotic plants, we also have an extensive collection of native plants. One of our favorites to use in the zoo landscape is holly. American holly, or Ilex opaca, is a broad leaf evergreen that grows in zones 5-9 and can reach 15-30 feet tall.
Another holly we enjoy using in the landscape is Winterberry holly, or Ilex verticillata. This deciduous holly loses its leaves in the fall, but puts on a spectacular show with its berries. Growing in zones 3-9, this holly can reach 3-12 feet tall. Hollies are an important food source for as many as 18 species of birds. They hold their berries well into winter providing a source of food for native birds and other animals.
by Amy Augustine, MPZ Zookeeper
As we celebrate the Year of the Bird, I would like to take the time to tell you about one of my favorite bird species at Mesker Park Zoo, the Laughing Kookaburra. Kookaburras are native to the eucalyptus forests of Eastern Australia. They are the largest member of the Kingfisher family, with females weighing up to 1lb (16oz), males are slightly smaller. They get their name from their laughter-like call. Their dawn and dusk choruses have also earned them the nickname, “the Bushman’s clock.”
Kookaburras are predatory birds who prefer to perch in trees and wait for prey to pass by. Using their 4” beak they prey upon a variety to invertebrates as well as small lizards, rodents and snakes. They swallow their prey whole, often bashing it against rocks or tree branches along with crushing it in their strong beaks to “soften” their prey to make them easier to swallow. Kookaburras nest in tree holes where the female lays 1-5 eggs. The young are cared for by a collective unit of the parents and elder siblings. While not currently endangered, habitat loss is a concern for the Kookaburra. They have adapted well to living in more urban areas. Some locals even put out meat scraps for them.
We have two Kookaburras at the zoo, a female, named Matilda (15 years old) and a male, named Murdoch (2 years old). Kookaburras often live into their 20s in zoos, as they have plenty of food; great medical care; and no predators to worry about. The next time you are at the zoo, be sure to stop by and appreciate these beautiful birds!
WHERE TO FIND AT MPZ: Asia/Australia
by Christopher Felts, MPZ Zookeeper
One of the larger birds soaring through our Amazonia exhibit, our Caciques are easily identified by their striking black and yellow colors. They’re also very loud! Even if you haven’t seen them fluttering through the canopy on your visit, you’ve probably heard one of their many, varied calls. Some of these might be alarm calls, others for territorial or mating purposes, but there has been evidence that different colonies of Cacique can have different dialects.
In nature, Yellow-rumped Cacique can be found through much of Northern South America and seem to be one of the animals adapting well to the thinning forests caused by human development. They are well known for nesting in great numbers and building equally large numbers of hanging nests in trees, woven from the vegetation they find in the forest. Sometimes these nests can contain a live wasp nest as well, a great example of animal symbiosis being used for defense. Thankfully we haven’t run into that issue here at the Mesker Park Zoo, though our birds can and will build a nest inside our exhibit.
As for what they eat, our Cacique enjoy a variety of fruit, seeds, grains, and live insects. In nature their diet can be just as varied, but can also include many species of spiders and caterpillars. They draw the line at cockroaches, however, so I suppose they have some sense of taste.
WHERE TO FIND AT MPZ: Amazonia
by Loretta Manning, MPZ Zookeeper
Don’t forget to look UP when you are walking through Amazonia! If you do, chances are you will see the beautiful blue-crowned motmot, a bird native to both Central and South America. They can be recognized by their striking blue and green plumage with a black mask-like feature over their eyes culminating in the blue “crown” on the top of the head.
These birds also sport central long tail feathers that are shaped like a tennis racquet. They often “tick-tock” these feathers back and forth like the pendulum of a clock, a behavior unique to these amazing birds.
Their diet includes many bugs, small rodents, and lizards. Sometimes in the afternoons, you can catch an Amazonia zookeeper tossing bugs to our male motmot on the bridge near the waterfall. He loves to catch and eat bugs out of mid-air with his short, serrated beak.
Another unique fact about motmots is that they dig burrows to nest instead of creating a traditional bird nest. These tunnels can be 5-14 feet in length! After about 21 days, the eggs will hatch and both parents will take turns caring for the young.
WHERE TO FIND AT MPZ: Amazonia