When Keepers discover animals are breeding or expecting to become parents, preparations are made to help make the process as easy as possible for both the animals and the Keepers who will be involved in any care needed. A few months ago, Keepers in the ZooFarm noticed breeding behaviors between our pair of Southern crested screamers, and so our story begins.
Southern screamers are a species of South American waterfowl best known for their unique call, which sounds like a scream, that is often used as a warning to alert other waterfowl and animals in the area of possible imminent danger.
The Zoo’s pair of screamers, Pink the female and Blue the male, have been a breeding pair for several years. They have had one clutch every year for the past four years, so Keepers were very optimistic of their chances for chicks again this year.
The first thing Keepers did to prepare for potential babies was offer the screamers various nesting materials to choose from so they could build a nest. The birds favored sticks, dried grasses and feathers and built their best nest, despite this skill not being their species’ strong suit.
After completing the nest, the female screamer laid two eggs, one on June 1 and the other on June 2. Both male and female screamers take turns incubating the eggs for 42-46 days and a chick hatched just on time on July 17. Keepers immediately called in Dr. Colleen, the Zoo’s vet, to examine the chick, which was deemed a healthy baby bird.
Chef Yohn got busy in the Diet Kitchen slightly altering and increasing the screamers’ diets to accommodate the new addition. The parents’ diets are elevated in a hanging feeder and the chick’s is put in dishes on the ground. Their diet consists of produce and greens, which are now finely chopped for the chick, and the pellet grain diet is ground up and moistened for the chick’s safety.
Back at the nest in the ZooFarm, Keepers monitored the second egg, noticing that it was taking too long to hatch. They ultimately pulled the egg from the nest after three days of inactivity and determined the egg had not been fertilized at all, meaning a second chick would never hatch.
Keepers report the new parents are doing a great job at caring for the chick. The nest is continuously cleaned and changed out by both adults, and the chick can be seen following them around exploring their exhibit and foraging for food. Recently, the chick was spotted enjoying a bath under a water sprinkler – a popular treat for the birds.
While fuzzy and yellow now, the chick will look just like its parents and become fully independent after three months. In order to determine the sex of the bird, the screamer must grow in their adult feathers, which have to be sent off for DNA testing. Once it is two years old, the chick will be sexually mature, but will most likely leave the Virginia Zoo around its first birthday to potentially breed at another institution per the Species Survival Plan®.
For now, the chick can be seen on exhibit daily with its parents. A portion of the exhibit is closed off for the safety of the chick. Once it has grown bigger and acclimated to its surroundings, Keepers will allow access to more of the exhibit yard and will eventually introduce enrichment, such as a swimming pool.