Posts Tagged 'birds'

Aussie Week: A National Symbol Is So Cute, It’s Laughable

national aquarium australia day

Every year on January 26, Aussies around the world celebrate Australia Day! This national holiday marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the first fleet of British ships to Sydney Cove. 

In addition to our annual event in Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes this Sunday, we’ll be celebrating Australia Day with special posts on WATERblog all week long! 

Day Two: Meet the Laughing Kookaburra

The laughing kookaburra is Australia’s national symbol. One of four known species of kookaburra, it is the only species that is recognized for its laugh-like call. Laughing kookaburras make a variety of call sounds, which are used for everything from courtship to marking territory.

national aquarium laughing kookaburra

FUN FACT: The call of the kookaburra is commonly used in movies to imitate the sound of monkeys in a jungle!

The kookaburra is a brown-colored bird, about the size of a crow, easily recognized by its very large bill. Males can be distinguished from females by the blue hues on their wing feathers and the darker blue on their tail feathers. Females have a small bit of blue on their wing feathers, but no blue on their tail feathers.

national aquarium laughing kookaburra

Laughing kookaburras are found throughout the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia, the southwest corner of Western Australia, Tasmania, Flinders Island and Kangaroo Island.

These birds are the largest members of the kingfisher family. Contrary to what their family name suggests, laughing kookaburras rarely eat fish! Instead, they prefer to feed on insects, frogs, birds, rodents and reptiles.

The laughing kookaburra has been the subject of many Aboriginal legends over the years. Many tribes believed that the bird’s early morning call was a signal to the sky gods to once again illuminate and warm the Earth.

Stay tuned for more Australia Week posts and join the conversation online using #AussieWeek!

A Blue View: Fall Bird Migration

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

September 20, 2012: Fall Bird Migration

Listen to John discuss Fall bird migration in this week’s A Blue View

Summer is on its way out, and the fall bird migration has already begun. Some species begin to move through Maryland as early as July, heading south where resources are more plentiful in the upcoming months; many more will hang on until November or December. For others, the Chesapeake Bay is their final winter destination.

Whether you are a serious birder or simply enjoy watching the parade of visitors pass by, this is an important time to do your part to support migrating birds. Here’s what you can do to support migratory birds on their journey:

  • Plant native plants that provide food and shelter
  • Provide a water source year-round
  • Limit pesticide and herbicide use
  • Keep your cats indoors

For more tips on how to transform your backyard into a haven for these beautiful birds, click here.

How Does Our Garden Grow?

With the unusually mild winter, it appears that gardens, orchards, and fields along the East Coast are blossoming and producing earlier-than-usual crops. This includes the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park in front of the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Its greenery is particularly lush this year, and there are a lot of flowers and fruits for curious guests and foraging birds alike.

Bee Balm—Monarda didyma


Bee balm, or scarlet balm, is a shrub that grows on the edges or understory of forests throughout the eastern U.S. and Asia. Often used as an ornamental plant, its brilliant red chandelier-like bloom is a favorite for butterflies and hummingbirds. It also has strong medicinal properties and was relied on by Native Americans for its use as an antiseptic and a poultice for skin infections and wounds. They brewed its leaves and stems as a tea to treat mouth and throat infections, as well as gingivitis. Amazingly, bee balm is a proven natural source of the antiseptic thymol, an active ingredient in most commercial mouthwashes!

Pitcher Plants—Sarracenia purpurea


Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants often referred to as “flytraps.” The purple pitcher plant is native to Maryland and can be found in acidic bogs and marshes. Excellent for controlling pests such as flying insects, slugs, and snails, these plants use nectar and scent to lure their prey into their “pitcher death traps.”

The cylindrical “pitcher” has very smooth and slippery sides and fills with water. Insects attracted by the nectar walk into the slippery pitcher only to fall in and drown. The dead bugs are then liquefied and absorbed as food by special enzymes produced in the plant.

Pitcher plants are commonly used in herbal remedies for treating fevers and increasing fertility in women. An infusion of its roots was once used to treat smallpox.

Shadbush—Amelanchier arborea


The shadbush is laden with ripe berries, providing a much-needed source of food for both migrating and local birds.

The next time you find yourself walking in the Inner Harbor area, stop by and check out our fantastic assortment of native plants in the Waterfront Park!

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!

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!


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