Saint Louis Zoo 314/781-0900
Susan Gallagher, 314/646-4633
Christy Childs, 314/646-4639
Mike De Pope, 314/646-4703

It's a Baby Bird Boom at Saint Louis Zoo Bird House!

Spring and summer have been exciting for the Saint Louis Zoo Bird Department with chicks hatching and keepers hopping!

Sired by the oldest male (age 45) in the care of zoos, a king vulture chick named Agnes hatched on April 3 and is now in its Bird House habitat for visitors to see. The birth of this year's chick marked the first time since 1991 that the king vultures have had chicks for two consecutive years.

For the third year in a row, the rhinoceros hornbill pair in the Bird House nested. This year, for the first time ever at the Zoo, they produced two chicks on March 28 and March 30—a rare occurrence for this species. They recently fledged the nest and can be seen in their habitat.

A Collie's jay chick hatched on July 5 and is in the nest with its parents. Visitors might catch a glimpse of the chick when the parents are feeding it. With a strikingly long-tail, this large bird from northwestern Mexico is the watchdog of the forest with its loud, raucous call.

On June 1, a critically endangered horned guan hatched—this is the second offspring for this pair (the first hatched last year). The chick is being cared for in a private area of the Bird House. The Saint Louis Zoo is one of only two Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) institutions to ever breed the horned guan in the U.S. Last year's chick was the first for the Zoo and only the second recorded breeding of the species in the United States.

Two endangered Congo peafowl recently hatched on July 5 and 8 at the Bird House and are being cared for in the private area. The Congo peafowl from the Central Congolian lowland forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the national bird of that country.

In addition, a white-headed buffalo weaver hatched on July 17 and is also being cared for behind the scenes.

About the birds:

The king vulture: This colorful bird makes its home in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Like all vultures, it is a scavenger and is adept at finding dead animals even in dense forests. Vultures are vanishing around the world at an alarming rate. Of the 23 species of vultures in the world, 11 are currently threatened. These birds are declining due to poisoning from feeding on medicated cattle carcasses, power line collisions and loss of food and habitat. Vultures play a vital role in the environment by cleaning up carcasses and preventing the spread of disease. Conservationists around the world are monitoring populations and implementing measures to conserve vultures and their habitats.

The rhinocerous hornbill: As is customary for all hornbills, when the chicks' 20-year-old mother laid her eggs, she sealed herself in a log with mud and fruit and incubated the eggs, relying solely on the 15-year-old male to pass her food through a tiny hole. About 30 days after the chicks hatched, the female broke out of the cavity and resealed the entrance. She and the male jointly fed the growing chicks until they emerged at approximately 80 days of age. Native to South East Asia, the rhinoceros hornbill has large yellow beaks on a small black feathery face. It is named for its golden-yellow upturned horn, called a casque, which is thought to act as a "resonating chamber," amplifying the animal's nasal cells. The casque may look heavy and cumbersome, but it's actually very light. It's made up of thin, hollow cells supported by tiny, hollow bones. The breeding of the Zoo's rhinoceros hornbills was recommended by the AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The Zoo is a participant in this cooperative program, working with other conservation organizations to ensure the survival of the species. The species is listed as near threatened.

The Collie's jay: These intelligent birds live in Northwestern Mexico in arid scrub, thorn forests, brush and open woodlands and in groups of five to ten animals. They eat a variety of foods, such as small animals, large insects, seeds, fruits, and grains. They also sip nectar from Balsa blossoms. Both the male and female jay help build the nest high in a tree, where the female lays and sits on three to four eggs.

The horned guan: Large and dramatic, the horned guan (or pavon) has a unique two-inch-long red horn of bare skin extending from the top of its head. This horn is thought to be ornamental to attract a mate. These unique horns will start to develop at approximately 3 months of age. The horn begins with two bumps on the top of the head. These bumps gradually twist and grow together. In 2007, the Saint Louis Zoo became the first accredited zoo in the nation to exhibit this species. One of the rarest bird species in the world, the horned guan population in the wild is down to only 1,000 to 2,000 individuals in southeastern Mexico and Guatemala because their cloud forest habitat has been destroyed for logging, coffee plantations and other cash crops. The recent hatchings are an important development in what has been a great effort to save this species. The Zoo has worked with this endangered family of birds in Trinidad and Columbia for several years, and, in 2004, founded the WildCare Institute and the Center for Conservation of the Horned Guan. The Horned Guan Conservation Center staff has worked with its partners to conduct research on this elusive species.

Congo peafowl: The Congo peafowl is a species of peafowl native to the Congo Basin. Very little is known about this species, which was only recorded as a species in 1936. The Congo peafowl has physical characteristics of both the peafowl and the guineafowl. The male (peacock) of this species is a large bird of up 25 to 28 inches in length. The Congo peafowl's diet consists mainly of fruits and insects. The male has a similar display to that of other species of peafowl. The Congo peafowl is monogamous, though detailed mating information from the wild is still needed. Due to ongoing habitat loss, small population size, and hunting pressure in some areas, the Congo peafowl is evaluated as vulnerable among threatened species.

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