While the weather outside is frightful, inside the Bird House it is so delightful. As the snow falls around the Saint Louis Zoo, a familiar “partridge in a pear tree” tune is sung. Do you recognize the carol? Birds have often been depicted in folk songs due to their beauty and, sometimes, their importance as a food source.
This holiday season, let the Saint Louis Zoo take you on a journey to discover 12 different types of birds for what we like to call, “The 12 Days of ‘Bird-mas.’”
On the first day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me: a crested wood partridge in a pear tree. The crested wood partridge is a small ground bird that is found across Southeast Asia and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Male crested wood partridges build beautiful huts made of leaves where the females lay five to six white eggs. The chicks are able to keep up with mom and dad within hours of hatching but require morsels of food delivered right to their beaks. These industrious little birds are listed as threatened in the wild due to logging and hunting pressure. #12Days
On the second day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – two Luzon bleeding heart doves. These unique doves are found only on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, where they call the lowland forests their home. While both the male and female have the unique “bleeding heart” coloration, the male is able to inflate his chest while courting the female, which causes the red spot to appear larger. The doves are doting parents that split their chick-raising duties equally; both incubate and feed the chick, known as a squab.
On the third day of "Bird-mas," the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – three French hens. Well, sort of. These birds may not speak French, but the Congo peafowl is the national bird of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where French has been adopted as the national language. One of only three species of peafowl, the others being the Indian peafowl and the green peafowl, Congo peafowl are devoted partners that raise up to four chicks per season. As small as a chicken, the Congo peafowl forage along the forest floor eating insects, seeds and fruit. Don't let their size fool you—Congo peafowl can be quite chatty with an intruder alert that sounds like a submarine alert siren. #12DaysofBirdmas
On the fourth day of "Bird-mas," the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – four grey-winged trumpeters. These calling birds use a variety of croaks, booms, cackles and whistles to keep in touch with their family and to warn their neighbors of danger. A social bird found in northern South America, grey-winged trumpeters form tightly knit family groups where older siblings aid in caring for the youngest chicks. Although known for their snake-killing abilities, these elusive birds feed mostly on fruit and perform an important job as seed dispersers.
On the fifth day of "Bird-mas," the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – five golden white-eyes. Now you see them, now you don't! Golden white-eyes move quickly through the canopies of the Northern Mariana Islands while gleaning insects off of leaves. Weighing in at just 20 grams (that's about 25 M&M chocolates), this critically endangered bird must spend a large portion of its day feeding on nectar, fruit and insects to keep up with its fast metabolism. When incubating eggs, parents change shifts every 25 minutes in order to replenish their bellies.
On the sixth day of "Bird-mas," the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – six bar-headed geese a laying. Most people can only dream of climbing the Himalayan Mountains, but this amazing feat is a flight in the park for bar-headed geese. Averaging six 6 pounds, bar-headed geese make an annual trek from India to Mongolia, traveling at speeds up to 40 miles per hour to breed in the Tibetan plateau. Once there, pairs will form monogamous bonds and raise the goslings together until the goslings are independent, around 60 days.
On the seventh day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – seven trumpeter swans a swimming. Nearly becoming extinct in the 1930s, the trumpeter swan has made an incredible comeback from 70 individuals to more than 63,000. Trumpeter swans live up to 30 years and begin forming lifelong pair bonds at around 3 years old. Known to be a little boisterous, swans on a date go for a synchronized swim, complete with head bobbing and “trumpeting,” much to the dismay of other waterfowl attempting to dine. Once a pair bond is established, the pair builds a nest mound where the female will incubate five to nine eggs while the male diligently protects his family. Woes betide any intruder, as the 30-pound bird can cause serious damage with one blow of his wings.
On the eighth of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – eight bird maids a milking. No milk pail is needed here. A few bird parents have very special feeding adaptations. A flamingo chick gets its nutrients by drinking crop milk directly from its parent’s mouth. Made from proteins and fats in a special gland of the digestive tract, crop milk delivers important nutrients and antibodies to the growing chick. Both sexes of doves and pigeons make crop milk for their young. Male emperor penguins are tasked with creating crop milk for young penguin chicks when their mom is fishing at sea for days. The female will regurgitate fish while the male alternates feeding with crop milk.
On the ninth day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – nine vultures dancing. Dancing with the Vultures may not be TV’s next greatest hit, but Natasha, a cinereous vulture, doesn’t mind staying out of the spotlight. At 29 years old, Natasha is happy to have her long-time Flamenco dance partner, Boris, join her in a round of dance at dinner time. Vultures are very expressive birds, using fancy foot maneuvers, wing displays and sometimes vocalizations to signal their moods. Some species of vultures perform elaborate aerial displays that last hours, hoping to attract a mate. Typically, vultures mate for life and will often form tightly knit family groups.
On the 10th day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – 10 Gentoo lords a leaping. What’s almost as fast as a speeding bullet and can leap over tall humans in a single bound? Super Gentoo penguins! Small yet mighty, Gentoo penguins can be found traveling through Antarctic waters at speeds of up to 22 miles per hour searching for fish and squid. Their journeys may take them to a depth 655 feet. As the Gentoo penguin torpedos to the surface, air bubbles trapped in its feathers are released, allowing the bird to reduce its drag in the water and be quickly propelled onto the ice. #12DaysofBirdmas
On the 11th day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – 11 spur-winged plovers piping. Plovers may not be able to conduct a symphony with their piping, but these loud and chatty birds make their message quite clear to intruders. Plovers are vigilant parents that are not afraid to stand their ground. When threatened, a spur-winged plover will acknowledge the intruder with a few quick vocalizations. If those do not work, the plover will engage its secret weapon: a spur located at the tip of its wings (hence its name). Barely half an inch in length, the spur can cause serious damage to an intruder. Plover chicks are precocial, meaning they are able to keep up with mom and dad soon after they hatch. #12DaysofBirdmas
On the 12th day of “Bird-mas,” the Saint Louis Zoo gave to me – 12 barbets drumming. What’s red and yellow with spots all over? Red and yellow barbets are omnivorous woodpeckers that call Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda their home. In order to forage for their favorite insects, barbets drum on decaying wood and use their powerful beaks to retrieve the tasty morsels inside. To deal with a lifetime of head banging, woodpecker species have developed a clever football helmet-like protection for their brain. A special bone, called the hyoid, wraps the woodpeckers’ brain in a horseshoe shape, beginning from inside their beak and ending between their eyes. This brain seatbelt keeps the bird concussion free as it pecks about 8,000 times per day in search of food and nesting cavities. #12DaysofBirdmas