Category Archives: Zoo

Celebrating Vultures: IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Back in September Arthur and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD), as we had last year. This year, most of the activities were found at the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area of the park.

There were displays about vultures, including information about vulture restaurants. In addition, the long-standing mystery of the Jungle Book vulture species identification was finally solved.

IVAD 2012

IVAD 2012

Jungle Book Vultures

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch there is a special medical exam room which allows for public viewing. Appropriately, the veterinary procedure scheduled for that morning was a routine exam on one of the park’s Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures.

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture

A small outdoor stage hosted a short program with an education Black Vulture named Beaker.

IVAD 2012

Vultures can normally be found elsewhere in the park, too. Over at the Flights of Wonder show, we watched Audrey, a young Andean Condor, fly over the audience. Here she receives a treat from a handler. Sometimes a young King Vulture named Elvis makes an appearance.

Andean Condor

And then there are always wild vultures, soaring over the park on any given warm, sunny day.

Kettle of Black Vultures

That’s how we celebrated IVAD this year, but I should confess — I celebrate vultures as often as I can. Yesterday I celebrated by handling a Turkey Vulture patient at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey for the first time!

Thank you to my fellow volunteer Robert for taking this photo!

IVAD 2012

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Teacher vultures

I recently started learning to handle birds at my new volunteer gig at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. It’s very interesting to me how the equipment and procedures are a bit different than what I learned at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. I have started working with the handsome American Kestrel Newton, who I got to handle on the glove for a couple of hours at a program two weeks ago. Oh, it was such a joy for me to hold this precious little avian ambassador and talk with visitors during the event.

Since today is International Vulture Awareness Day, I’ve been thinking about vultures on the glove. None of the vultures at ACBOP are glove trained, but that may be for the best in my case, since I don’t have the best track record with vultures. The first time I tried to handle Junior the Turkey Vulture I ended up with a little scar on my hand. Don’t get me wrong, I love vultures, just love ’em, but after ACBOP’s Uff-da went after my ankle, I think the feeling is not quite mutual.

Anyway, vultures are part of raptor education programs and are glove trained at centers all over the world. Here are some cool photos I found on Flickr of vultures on the glove, in flight programs, or educating the public in zoos. Thanks to the photographers for sharing their photos with a Creative Commons license.

Eurasian Griffon on the glove | Vulture by Maurice Koop

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture on the glove | Turkey Vulture by Michael @ NW Lens

White-backed Vulture flight program | 2008-07-06-13h26m55.IMG_2116le by A.J. Haverkamp

American Black Vulture on the glove | Vulture by RichardGlenSailors

Andean Condor being fed
Hand feeding an Andean Condor | Andean Condor being fed by San Diego Shooter

Vera takes off
Lappet-faced Vulture flight program | Vera takes off by *Pete

Palm-nut Vulture in jesses | Sailing by patries71

Rodney - Hooded vulture
Hooded Vulture flying to glove | Rodney – Hooded vulture by piX1966

Cape Griffon Vulture in your face | Ybgvt_1b by gvgoebel

Jack Hanna ~ rare Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture with celebrity zookeeper | Jack Hanna ~ rare Egyptian Vulture by something.from.nancy

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vultures at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge | Rüppell’s Vulture by Powered By Birds

David with the White Headed Vulture
White-headed Vulture on the glove | David with the White Headed Vulture by Richard Towell

Felix the Vulture
Cinereous Vulture on falconry perch | Felix the Vulture by RCanine

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture on the glove | 2008-03-15-13h14m52.IMG_3562e by A.J. Haverkamp

King Vulture on the glove | IMG_8945e by A.J. Haverkamp

California Condor portrait
California Condor at the zoo | California Condor portrait by San Diego Shooter

cincinnati zoo vulture feeding
American Black Vulture goofing off | cincinnati zoo vulture feeding by Paul J Everett

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Sunbathing Nicobar Pigeons

The Nicobar Pigeon is one of the most beautiful species in the family Columbidae. They average 1.5 to 3 inches larger than the average Rock Pigeon. And they are colorful!

Nicobar Pigeon

Besides their beautiful metallic green, blue and copper feathers, Nicobar Pigeons have long hackles (long feathers) around their necks.

Nicobar Pigeons are named for the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. During a recent visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I saw a group of these gorgeous pigeons sunning themselves. They were in a large walk-through aviary in the Maharajah Jungle Trek attraction.

Nicobar Pigeons sunning

Nicobar Pigeons sunning

Throughout the park that day I noticed many new cast members being trained or following orientation from more experienced Disney employees. As I stopped to watch the sunbathing pigeons, I overheard one cast member explaining to another that the sunbathing area was a hotspot for questions from visitors who express concern for the birds. A sunbathing bird may contort into an odd-looking position, or appear to be injured, while exposing various body parts to the sun. If you want to learn about avian sunbathing, this article on is a good place to start: Birds Sunning.

Nicobar Pigeon sunning

Nicobar Pigeon sunning

Unfortunately, the Nicobar Pigeon is considered a Near Threatened species in the wild. Threats to the species include hunting, the pet trade, non-native predators, and habitat destruction.

Their beautiful plumage makes Nicobar Pigeons popular birds in zoo aviaries. Because they do breed easily in captivity, breeding programs are able to stock overseas zoos.

Nicobar Pigeons

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Birds at the Central Florida Zoo

For a while I was considering the docent program at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The zoo, in Sanford, is just about 10 minutes away from where we live. Arthur and I paid our first visit to the zoo earlier this month, to see what the park is like and to see some of the raptors and other birds in the zoo’s programming.

Every Saturday and Sunday there are two scheduled bird programs.

At 11:30AM we saw the “Bird Show” on the Magpie Jay Stage. Here we learned about several different species which were either brought out on the glove or flown. Both Florida native species and birds found elsewhere were included in this program.

Two birds flew. A Harris’s Hawk flew between perches around the audience, and a Red-shouldered Hawk flew between handlers across the spectators.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

Other birds in this program were the Guira Cuckoo, found throughout South America, and the Black-throated Magpie-jay, found in Mexico.

Black-throated Magpie-jay
Black-throated Magpie-jay

Black-throated Magpie-jay
The incredibly long tail feathers of the Black-throated Magpie-jay

Guira Cuckoo
Guira Cuckoo

Three birds native to Florida were presented: an Eastern Screech Owl; a Red-tailed Hawk, and the previously-mentioned Red-shouldered Hawk. These three were all permanently non-releasable birds with injuries; the Red-tailed Hawk was originally found in our new hometown of DeBary. I was interested to learn that in our part of Florida, grey phase Eastern Screech Owls are more common than red phase, which is the type in their program. This bird was originally found in the eastern part of Volusia County.

Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech Owl

At 1:00PM we went to the “Raptor Encounter” program, which was a short informal program featuring Ray, a Florida Bald Eagle with a permanent wing injury. The handler was joined by a fellow zookeeper who told us about Bald Eagles in general and about Ray specifically.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle & handler
Bald Eagle and handler

The zoo has a number of other birds on display, though I’ll admit my focus during this visit was mainly on the birds in the educational programs.

Two Bald Eagles were on display in a completely open exhibit; both are non-flighted but we watched them move around with ease among their open-air perching.

Bald Eagles

We also saw three macaws in a different open-air display, including a snoozing Green-winged Macaw.

Green-winged Macaw

The Central Florida Zoo is involved in 11 Species Survival Plans, working on captive breeding critically endangered species, an impressive number for a small institution. Though the zoo is relatively small, we enjoyed our visit. The docent program looks like a good one; unfortunately the timing of the training this winter/spring doesn’t really work out for me / us right now. The training usually takes place twice a year; we may think about it again in the fall!

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Celebrating Vultures at Animal Kingdom

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). Did you celebrate nature’s clean -up crew today? Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating vultures all month!

Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.

We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.

Vulture skulls
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!

Birdorable vulture downloads!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans

At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.

Lappet-faced Vulture sign
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life

I'm a vulture!
I’m a vulture!

At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.

The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉

Calling in the vultures
Calling in the vultures

We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).

Rüppell's Vulture
Om nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vulture

Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂

Turkey Vulture
A Turkey Vulture soars over Disney World

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Flights of Wonder

“Flights of Wonder” is a live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that uses free-flighted birds from all over the world. Arthur and I attended a performance on a recent visit to the zoo / theme park.

While waiting in line outside the outdoor theater, a cast member came out to talk with the crowd along with an avian ambassador, a Great Horned Owl. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the handler’s rather thin glove and one of the owl’s talons resting precariously on the cuff of said glove. Eek.

Great Horned Owl with small-gloved handler

The show takes place in the Asia-themed part of the park, and the stage was made to look like an Indian ruin.

Flights of Wonder stage set

The performance began with birds like macaws, hornbills, toucans and others flying across or walking on the stage to a short narration about birds of the world. The birds flew from the sides of the stage and from holes in the stage itself. This first part starred birds alone; it was a few minutes before the human host came out.

Grey Crowned Crane
A free-flighted Grey Crowned Crane wowed the crowd

Throughout the rest of the program, different bird species were introduced, and we got to see more amazing free-flying (or free-running) birds, as well as some (somewhat) natural behaviors. For example, a Seriema came out and smashed a plastic figure on the ground several times. In the wild, these birds will beat prey like lizards on rocks before consuming them.

A couple of audience participation bits were cute but an added cast member for comedic relief really fell flat with me; the beautiful birds were enough “entertainment” for me. The audience seemed to like it, so if they get the show’s message of conservation, it’s all fine with me.

Scarlet Macaws & Spectacled Owl
Free-flighted Scarlet Macaws and handler with Spectacled Owl

The final bird of the show was a Bald Eagle (who stayed on the glove). Handlers also came out with a Bateleur and a Spectacled Owl, who remained on stage for the audience to have a closer look.

Handler with Bateleur (a species of eagle)

“Flights of Wonder” is a sleek show with a great variety of beautiful birds and a clear message of conservation. If you don’t mind some cheesy entertainment with your birds, you’ll probably enjoy this show, as I did.

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A walk through the Jardin des Plantes

While in Paris, we visited the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes. The Jardin is a large botanical garden containing several museum galleries and a small zoo as well as horticultural displays. We walked through parts of the public garden before heading to the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

Stork Statue

We stopped for a rest by a large Lebanon Cedar tree. The tree had a plaque on it indicating it was brought to Paris in 1734. Holy cow, that’s old! I gave the tree a hug.

Lebanon Cedar

Lebanon Cedar

Outside of the Galerie there was a huge map of France and her territories.

Big map of France

The natural parks and wildlife reserves of each area was highlighted in different colors. Local flora and fauna, ranging from abundant and common to endangered or extinct were shown for many of the areas. Of course, quite a few of them were birds.

Map of France

New Caledonia

Bearded Vulture

After checking out France’s natural riches on the map, we headed to the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

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A visit to Papegaaienpark Veldhoven (part 4)

We had so much fun visiting the parrots at the Papegaaienpark. During our visit, we got to meet lots and lots of parrots. But the facility is home to more than parrots. The park also takes in unwanted zoo animals, other unwanted exotic pets, and animals confiscated by the Dutch customs authorities at points of entry.

Unflighted birds were scattered throughout different open-air habitats in the park. Some were freely walking among the visitors, while others, like the Emu and the Chicubas, were separated by moats or fences.

Red-crowned Cranes
Red-crowned Cranes mingled with ducks, pelicans, and others

Red-breasted Goose
A small group of Red-breasted Geese crossed the path in front of us

Chicubas shared space with a Bar-headed Goose

Emu looking at you

Others were kept inside large outdoor aviaries.

Bald Eagles
A pair of Bald Eagles shared a HUGE aviary

Snowy Owl
This Snowy Owl preferred to stand on the ground

Several times, I walked by a large aviary holding several vulture species. The weather that day was partly cloudy, with a few showers here and there. The last time I walked by the vulture aviary, the sun was shining, and you know what vultures do when the sun comes out… Look at that second sweetheart, sunning herself just like a vulture ought to.

King Vulture
King Vulture in the sun

King Vulture with wing amputation
King Vulture taking in the sun

The final area to visit in the park is a huge building, where several tropical species were housed. Many were free-flighted, but remained wary of people and didn’t approach. Visitors weren’t allowed to feed these birds. The TropiJoy building also had many enclosed aviaries for lots of different bird species.

Sunbittern perched on a railing!

Red-billed Toucan
Red-billed Toucan

Pygmy Owl
Impossibly small at just 6.5″: Peruvian Pygmy Owl!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this photo-heavy mini-series on our visit to the Papegaaienpark in Veldhoven, the Netherlands. It makes me sad that such a place is necessary in this world, but the staff, volunteers, and residents make it a wonderful place to visit. We’ll certainly be back.

Me leaving the park

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More Lincoln Park Zoo birds

During our visit to Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo earlier this month, we had a look at the bird enclosures. After viewing the penguins and seabirds, we headed to the McCormick Bird House, which is home to at least 28 species in several different exhibits.

A shorebird habitat housed a sunning American Avocet, a shy Red Knot and Piping Plover, and an extremely active Black-necked Stilt.

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt

Separate enclosures housed more birds, including two endangered species which are part of breeding programs. The Guam Micronesia Kingfisher is extinct in the wild, with just 100 birds in zoos. The Lincoln Park zoo participates in a species survival plan in cooperation with other zoos.

Guam Micronesian Kingfisher

The zoo also participates in a species survival plan for the critically endangered Bali Mynah, in cooperation with other zoos.

Bali Mynah

Many of the birds are housed in an open aviary, and visitors walk between the habitat with birds flying overhead or scurrying across paths.

Inca Tern
Inca Tern

Red-capped Cardinal
Red-capped Cardinal

We had fun watching an active Hamerkop gathering mud and debris for a humongous nest.


Hamerkop nest

Before leaving the building, we stopped to peek inside the kitchen. What a complicated menu!

McCormick Bird House kitchen

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Penguins & Seabirds at Lincoln Park Zoo

Earlier this month, Arthur and I visited Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Naturally, we focused on visiting the resident birds. We passed a flock of Chilean Flamingos in the Flamingo Habitat on our way to the Blum-Kovler Penguin-Seabird House.


There are two main enclosures inside. One housed penguins: Chinstrap, King and Rockhopper. They were being fed by a zoo employee, who also looked to be recording data.

Kovler Penguin and Seabird House

Next we stopped to look at the seabirds: Common Murre, Razorbill and Tufted Puffin. Their enclosure was being cleaned, so most birds were in the water. It was a lot of fun to watch them swimming – especially when they completely submerged, appearing to fly underwater.

Stay tuned for more birds of Lincoln Park Zoo, coming soon!

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