From Ken Howell and Deb Dial, Rain Forest staff -
We are happy to introduce the newest members of our Rain Forest bird collection: two bay-headed tanager chicks!
This is the first successful rearing of bay-headed tanagers in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit. Rearing small passerine birds in a mixed species exhibit (such as ours) is extraordinarily difficult, so we are very proud of this success! It has taken several years of intuitive problem solving by our aviculture staff to reach this point. In case you are wondering, aviculture is the practice of keeping and breeding birds and the culture that forms around them.
The goal of our aviculture staff is to provide an environment in the Rain Forest that promotes natural behaviors, which we hope ultimately leads to parent-reared, on-exhibit reproductive success.
Because we are attempting to breed on exhibit, the birds here experience many of the same challenges that chicks and parents experience in the wild. We have encountered problems with other species predating on the eggs and have had to deal with newly hatched chicks and their parents selecting inappropriate food items. Perhaps the greatest difficulty has been that there are very few opportunities for staff to learn from each breeding event (usually just two to three events a year).
The breeding success is due to a combination of adaptations, which have been implemented one at a time over the last several years to judge the effectiveness of each change. Those adaptations have included the creation of “exclusion boxes” to prevent nest interference, the introduction of new food items over time, and the installation of nest cameras to maximize our potential to learn more about the breeding processes!
Our two new chicks have been named “Billy” and “Kline” in honor of the Aquarium’s Facilities director, Bill Kline. He was of great assistance in delaying a project to repair the Rain Forest deck, which was scheduled to begin the very day the eggs hatched! Though the nest is about 2-3 feet away from the intended work space, we wanted to give the chicks some undisturbed time to become acclimated to their new world.
The actual gender of the young birds is currently unknown and will be determined by DNA analysis at a later date. The chicks, along with their parents, are currently residing in the corner Howdy cage where the young birds can practice their flying skills. It is our plan to release the new chicks into the Rain Forest exhibit once they have become experienced fliers.
We have had success breeding other species, including Red-capped Cardinals and White-tailed Trogons. In fact, we have led the industry in White-tailed Trogon breeding and have been able to provide many other institutions with information to help them do the same. We hope that with continued and consistent success with our small birds on exhibit, we will become a leader in tanager breeding as well!