Archive for the 'Birds' Category



Animal Update – July 13

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Turquoise Tanager Chicks

We have two new turquoise tanager chicks in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit. This is the first time these birds have hatched eggs with us!

Turquoise tanager chicks

Turquoise tanagers are found in humid tropical forests throughout northern and central South America, as well as in Trinidad. Our exhibit houses two males and one female. Our turquoise tanagers began building a nest in one of the exhibit Cecropia trees in April 2012. Because the nest was high up in the tree, we were unable to confirm the number of eggs in the nest, but knew the female was sitting on at least one. After a short time, we were able to visually confirm that two chicks had hatched.

It is known that all adults within a turquoise tanager flock assist in feeding the nestlings and we were able to observe all three of our adults attending to the chicks.

Recently, we noticed the young birds’ growth and interest in leaving the nest. We covered both pools near the waterfall with netting to prevent their first tumble from the nest resulting in an accident. Once out of the nest and on the ground, we were able to transfer them to the corner cage where the adults continued to care for them. Our DNA tests have told us that one chick is a male and one is a female.

Turquoise tanagers

Both chicks are on exhibit (and still soliciting food from the adults) and we are very happy to announce that our turquoise tanager flock has grown from three to five!


Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Say “howdy” to our two new blue-crowned motmot chicks!

Meet the newest additions to our Upland Tropical Rain Forest bird collection: two blue-crowned motmot chicks!

Blue-crowned motmots are neotropical birds known for their unusual nesting behaviors. Parent birds excavate long tunnels in the ground where they lay eggs and raise their offspring.

Map showing neotropic ecozone, Central and South America

Neotropic Ecozone

Late this summer, Aquarium aviculturalists were excited to learn that our pair was raising chicks in their burrow. Since it is not possible to see what is going on underground, our aviculturists had to interpret the adult birds’ behavior to monitor the brooding and hatching processes.

When Rain Forest staff observed that one of the motmots was not present during the morning inventory and reappeared later that day while the other member of the pair had disappeared, they assumed that the adult motmots were taking turns incubating eggs in the underground nest. When the adult birds began carrying food into the tunnel (first insects and then, later, “pinkie” mice), they knew that the chicks had hatched. After about four weeks, our staff noticed the parent birds sitting at the tunnel entrance with food in their bills, trying to entice the chicks to emerge from underground.

On September 22, two Motmot chicks emerged from their tunnel and Aquarium staff spotted them in the Rain Forest. By the time motmot chicks leave their burrows, they are fully feathered, able to fly, and nearly adult-sized.

Motmot Chick

When the two chicks emerged, they were banded, weighed, and placed in a “howdy cage” where our Aquarium aviculturists will finish rearing them. The howdy cage helps the chicks get familiarized with the new environment, while allowing them to feel safe and secure in their own space.

Thanks to DNA analysis, we know that one of the chicks is a male, and one is a female. Our aviculturists named them Ichabod Crane and Sweeny Todd.

The introduction of these two chicks into our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit marks the first successful hatching of this species of bird at the Aquarium in more than 25 years. The blue-crowned motmot is one of 322 animals under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Population Management Plan Program. We are proud to add these two new motmots to the collective zoo and aquarium population.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the two colorful motmot chicks in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit the next time you visit.

Pair of motmot chicks in "howdy cage"

Pair of blue-crowned motmot chicks acclimating to their new environment in their "howdy cage."

Puffin chicks get names and exhibit new behaviors

Our little chicks are growing up and have been given names!

In July, we announced the hatching of not one, but two Atlantic puffin chicks at the National Aquarium, Baltimore.

The young puffins spent their first weeks in their burrows being cared for by their parents. By the end of August, the two chicks had begun exploring life outside the burrow and practicing swimming.

At that time we asked our Facebook fans and Twitter followers to suggest names for the chicks. Our puffin keepers narrowed down the lists to their top five favorites for each chick, and then we put them to a vote onsite at the Aquarium and online on our Facebook page. (We received a total of 1,836 votes!)

The winning names are Violet and Jasper!

Violet hatched on June 28, 2011, weighing 40 grams. Her parents are Victor and Vixen. This is the puffin pair’s third chick! Her big brother, Vinny, hatched last year and also received his name by popular vote.

Jasper hatched on July 10, 2011, weighing 39.4 grams. He is Tex and Kingster’s first chick.

Over the past two weeks, the chicks have become much more brave. They spend very little time in the burrow and can be seen splashing in the water and scuttling across the land in our Sea Cliffs exhibit. The little girl is starting to take fish that are thrown to her.

The chicks are starting to look a lot like their full-grown counterparts, except their bills are slightly smaller and still almost completely gray in color. Ask an Exhibit Guide if you need any help spotting them.

Visit the National Aquarium, Baltimore soon for a chance to see Violet and Jasper before they’re all grown up!

Puffin chicks hatched in Sea Cliffs exhibit!

Just weeks ago, we welcomed two new puffin chicks to our Sea Cliffs exhibit!

Back in 2006, we were happy to report the first successful hatching of a puffin chick at the National Aquarium. The parents, Victor and Vixen, presented us with another healthy chick in 2010, later named Vinny.  On June 28, 2011, they hatched their third little puffin! The chick weighed 40 grams at the time of the hatch, and weighed 90 grams at 8 days old. This follows the weight pattern of his older brother.

Just a little over a week later, on July 6, first-time puffin parents Tex and Kingster hatched their own chick, making this the Aquarium’s first year for multiple puffin hatchings. This chick weighed 39.4 grams at the time of the hatch and 168 grams at 12 days old.

For the next several weeks, the young puffins will remain in their burrows while they are cared for by their parents. Visitors may see the parents bringing fish into the nest burrows, which are located in the far left side of the exhibit.

When they are about 45 days old, they should begin exploring life outside of the burrow and will be visible to the public. Check back here in the upcoming weeks for updates and naming opportunities!

Here is a video of the first chick being weighed just days ago:

Curious about what it takes to care for puffins? Be an early bird to the Aquarium on August 28 for a talk with one of our aviculturists, from 7:45–9 a.m. Light breakfast fare will be provided. Cost: $30, includes Aquarium admission. Member price: $8. Reserve your ticket by calling 410-727-3474.

New chicks on the block!

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!

Newly hatched bay-headed tanagers! Photo by Alex Zelazo-Kessler

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!

Love is in the water

Over the years, many have met their mates at the National Aquarium – and we don’t just mean the animals! There is just something about this place that makes people fall in love. From visitors on first dates, to couples getting engaged or tying the knot in front of our exhibits, to staff members falling for each other, love is always in the air. But with more than 16,000 animals living at the Aquarium, love is also in the water!

In honor of the upcoming holiday we humans created to celebrate love, we thought it would be fun to share some tales of animal dating, er, mating at the Aquarium. It’s no secret that the dolphins at the National Aquarium like to reproduce. Since the dolphin pavilion opened in 1999, we’ve had 13 dolphin births. But dolphins aren’t the only animals at the Aquarium with routine mating habits.

The stingrays in our Wings in the Water exhibit are a busy bunch of animals! Over the last few years, dozens of cownose and southern stingray pups have been born in the exhibit. The southern stingrays were reproducing so quickly that the males had to be separated from the females! And apparently there is one female cownose ray that the males find particularly attractive.

And did you know male and female seahorses dance, change color and lock tails for a short swim during courtship? Talk about romantic! After mating, it is the male seahorses that become pregnant and rear the young. They are nature’s true Mr. Moms! Just last January, one of our male seahorses delivered a tiny group of babies into the world.

Frogs and toads do a song and dance to attract their mates! They were the first vocal land-dwellers that use voice almost exclusively to attract a mate. Each species has its own distinctive voice so females do not waste time following the call of another species. Once a female dart frog finds a singing male of her species, he stops singing and initiates a courtship dance! Some species spin in a circle, while others gently stroke the female’s back with his forelegs. If she accepts his advances, she will follow him to an egg-laying site.

Turtles have a ritual of their own. Many aquatic species of turtles are sexually dimorphic (when the male and female of a species look different) in size, and in some cases, males may be half the size of females. The smaller males often have to use elaborate courtship displays in order to romance the females. This could involve swimming ahead of the female and gently stroking her head and neck with the claws of his front feet, or bobbing his head up and down rapidly. We see these behaviors at the Aquarium between Australian red-faced side-necked turtles.

Perhaps the most unusual mating fact is found in the fishes! Some species of fish undergo a sex change as they grow so they can experience mating and reproduction as a male and a female! The California sheepshead, found in our Kelp Forest exhibit, begins life as a female with pink coloration. When it grows to a length of about 18 inches, it transforms into a male.

We should point out that most species of animals pair up with multiple mates throughout their lives, simply for reproduction purposes. But monogamy can exist in the animal kingdom! Our sweetest tale of animal mating at the Aquarium can be found in the Sea Cliffs exhibit. Like many species of birds, puffins are known to form pair bonds, and can remain in those bonds for life. That has certainly been the case for two young adult puffins living at the National Aquarium. It seems as though these two birds were made for each other…

Victor and Vixen came to the National Aquarium in April of 2004 with two other females. Victor had his choice of ladies, but it wasn’t long before he found a match in Vixen. They had their first egg in 2005 but it turned out to be infertile, which is common for many young couples. Just a year later, they had their first chick, Princess, who still lives at the Aquarium, and just last year they came together to raise their second chick, Vinnie. They are great parents. Last year they fed Vinnie so much that he became quite the chunker!

Though they will probably stay paired for life, these birds aren’t on cloud nine all year round. Puffins in the wild usually come together in pairs only to breed, and then separate until the next breeding season. Even though our birds live in the same area year round, the same rule applies. Come spring, Victor and Vixen will start staking their claim on their burrow (they always use the same one on the far left side of the exhibit) by chasing the other birds away!

On any given day you could catch a glimpse of animals mating at the Aquarium. We sure have! Years ago our video team was able to capture amazing footage of two seahorses completing their mating process. What you’ll see below is a quick glimpse of how a female seahorse transfers eggs to the male!

And the winner is…

We’re happy to announce that our 11-week-old puffin chick now has a proper name! During the two-week voting period, we received nearly 1,200 online and text votes from our fans and followers. This morning, with the help of ABC2 News and Puffin, the Aquarium’s mascot, we officially revealed the chick’s name.

With nearly 500 votes, making up 43% of all votes, VINNY is the winning name!

Vinny was one of five names up for vote. It was chosen to complement the names of his parents, Victor and Vixen. It’s a fitting name for the young chick because his parents have done a great job helping him learn how to become a puffin!

During Vinny’s first few weeks of life, Victor and Vixen watched over their chick very closely in the nesting burrow. Each day they supplied him with fish and materials to keep his nest comfy. Thanks to their help, he is now very independent and spends a lot of time swimming with the other puffins!

You can learn more about puffins at our Morning With the Puffins: Aviculturist Talk on September 25 from 7:45-9 a.m.

Explore our newly renovated puffin exhibit and learn more about its feathered occupants during a morning talk with one of our respected aviculturists. Light breakfast fare will be provided and is included in the price. The cost is $8 for members and $30 for non-members (includes admission). Children under 3 are free. Reservations are required. Please call 410-727-FISH (3474) to make reservations.


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