The Toledo Zoo continues to add to its “down under” menagerie ahead of the opening of its Australian-themed Wild Walkabout exhibit, which opens in May.
Three Australian magpie chicks, hatched Feb. 6, are the latest additions, and will be on view at the Nature’s Neighborhood children’s zoo starting May 24.
The chicks are off-exhibit at the zoo’s Avian Breeding Center. Their genders have not been determined but will be soon when a feather from each bird is submitted to a laboratory for testing, said Robert Webster, Toledo Zoo curator of birds. The magpies have not been named since their sexes have not been identified.
They arrived from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo as fertilized eggs after the parents were not able to care for the eggs. The pair had a history of breaking eggs before they could mature, so it was decided to take these eggs away midway through the incubation period, Mr. Webster said.
A zoo aviary keeper, Staci Bekker, has developed a hand-rearing regimen for Australian magpies, which includes feeding and carefully monitoring their weights. The Toledo Zoo will share this information with other zoos that might need to hand-rear Australian magpie chicks.
The birds are common in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand, yet populations at U.S. zoos remain low. Currently 11 of the birds, including the three in Toledo, live at five zoos accredited by the North American Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“This is an unusual species of bird for any zoo to have,” Mr. Webster said. “This species has rarely numbered more than 10 in North American AZA-accredited zoos since the 1980s.”
Australian magpies, which live to about age 20 in captivity, are known for their intelligence, striking black-and-white colors, and melodious, complex songs. The birds sing for as long as 70 minutes, just before dawn and again at dusk, through the winter and spring.
If the Australian magpie’s voices are unusual, their appetites aren’t. This species eats whatever is nearby, though they tend heavily toward meat. At first, the zoo’s three chicks ate small bits of papaya slices, primarily for moisture. But their diet includes crickets, waxworms, and mealworms.
The birds are very social and their behavior is interesting to watch, Mr. Webster said. Unlike most birds that fledge — or leave the nest — when grown, these birds can hang around for years, even helping to raise new brothers and sisters. They are also thought to be very intelligent, with a very complex language. “I think ‘bird brain’ is a horrible thing to say,” Mr. Webster said. “There are some birds that are really smart, and this is one of them.”
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