Whipsnade Zoo hand-rears ‘critically endangered’ chicks
Two chicks considered ‘critically endangered’ have been hand-reared from eggs at a Bedfordshire zoo. The blue crowned laughing thrush chicks have been saved after being hand-fed 12 times a day by their dedicated keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
The birds, also known as Pterorhinus courtoisi, had to be looked after by keepers at the conversation zoo after their parents stopped looking after the eggs. The zoo workers stepped in to mimic the natural parenting patterns of the birds, turning the eggs five times a day while they were in an incubator.
The keepers created a nest for the newly-hatched chicks and fed them 12 times a day. This continued until they were able to feed themselves.
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The birds are naturally found in the forests and shrubland of China’s Jiangxi Province. But there are now thought to be fewer than 250 adult blue crowned laughing thrushes left in the wild, due to loss of habitat and wildlife trade. The chicks are part of a Global Species Management Plan for the rare species, classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.
An early video, recorded when the chicks were days old, show the small ‘alien-like’ featherless thrushes lifting open their beaks to eat finely chopped pieces of food. Now, four weeks old, they are flying around the zoo’s ‘fledgling aviary’ with full plumage.
Deputy bird team leader, Claire McSweeney said: “We are so delighted that these two, globally significant chicks, who we have been caring for since before they even hatched, are doing so well. Hand-rearing chicks like these requires utter dedication and round-the-clock efforts from the whole team.
“We have to get everything right. When building the nest, for example, we have to make sure it’s cosy enough for them to huddle up together but has enough space for them to move apart a little if they get too hot. We made their nest with coconut fibres and AstroTurf, and included twigs small enough for them to get their tiny feet around, as it is vital that they develop the muscles to grip things.
“We hand-fed the chicks a pureed mixture at first, but gradually weaned them onto a mixture of fruit and insects. Once they were strong enough, we started leaving food out for them so they could try eating independently.
“After about two weeks, once their eyes were fully open and their tail and wing feathers had come through, they began to sit on the edge of the nest, trying to flap. In the fourth week, all their remaining body plumage grew in, and we knew it was time for them to be released into the fledgling aviary, where they could start to explore their environment and practice flying from branch to branch.”
When the birds are old enough they will join their parents in the Zoo’s blue crowned laughing thrush habitat. A social species, thrushes usually stay with their flock throughout winter before finding mates in the summer months.