05 November 2010

Zoo Birds II

In March 2009, I posted about some of the interesting birds that Lindsay encountered on a spring trip to the St. Louis Zoo. Last weekend, Lindsay and I were back in St. Louis, visiting Jenny, Frank, and Allison, and we visited the zoo for Boo at the Zoo. After all of the tricks and treats, we walked through some of the exhibits, including a couple of bird exhibits. Below are some of the birds we encountered.

One of the exhibits, located in the 1904 World's Fair Flight Cage, features birds of North American cypress swamps. This was one of the most interesting displays that I have ever seen at a zoo... both the plants and the birds are native to the cypress swamps along the Mississippi River. Usually, zoos seem to feature mostly animals native to far away, exotic places; to see an exhibit highlighting the diversity found just next door was refreshing. The bird above is a Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), a common species that can often be found eating insects off of the backs of cows in pastures within its range.

Another bird we saw in the cypress swamp exhibit was Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), pictured above. This was certainly the best look we've ever had at this cute duck species. One feature that really stands out on this 15" long duck is the long, paddle-like tail that often can be seen sticking straight up when a Ruddy is on the water. Ruddy Ducks are known as divers, and when they are under water searching for food, they use this broad tail as a rudder to propel them towards prey.

"Oh, look... a flamingo!" If I could get just a dollar for each time I've heard this misidentification blurted from the mouths of awestruck observers who have no idea that there could be another species of pink bird, I would be able to blog about long, exotic trips instead of vacations to a zoo! One look at the spoon-shaped bill of this bird (you may need to click on the photo to see this better) tells you that it is not a flamingo at all, but is in fact a spoonbill... a Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), to be exact. You can see in the photo above that the nostrils are all the way at the base of the bill. This is very important, as Roseate Spoonbills feed primarily by "head-swinging" (sticking their partially open bills nearly all the way into the water and swinging them back-and-forth in arcs to create currents that bring insects, mollusks, crustaceans, etc. into feeding range). When the spoonbill feels the vibrations of its prey nearby, it closes its bill and scoops up a meal. With nostrils so far back on the bill, Roseate Spoonbills can breath while their bills are almost completely under water.

The bird above was difficult to photograph, even though we knew a covey of them was within 15 feet of us. This is a Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). Bobwhites are often heard (they produce a whistling "bob-white" song that rises in pitch through the second syllable; but don't be fooled by a mimicking European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)), but rarely seen. They are often quite well hidden amongst grasses and brushy vegetation.

Although it is much more exhilarating to find these species flying and foraging free in nature, having an exhibit to show the unknowing public some of the beauty and diversity that is within just a couple of hundred of miles is a good idea that can really open the eyes of potentially budding naturalists. I wish more zoos had local exhibits similar to this.

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