The San Antonio Zoo recently celebrated the hatching of a bird whose species cannot be found in the wild. On July 4th, the zoo’s Aviculture Department successfully hatched a Micronesian Kingfisher chick for the first time in 5 years. Micronesian Kingfishers are extinct in the wild, and only about 140 exist in human care.
The chick’s parents are a new breeding pair introduced to each other in March. Micronesian Kingfishers are notoriously picky about their partners, but this pair hit it off right away. Within a month, staff began seeing courtship behaviors, and the couple laid their first egg in June, resulting in this chick.
“I am so very proud of our Animal Care Specialists for all their hard work, dedication, and passion they bring to zoo daily,” said Tim Morrow, President & CEO, San Antonio Zoological Society. “This significant hatching is a result of the excellent care the animals receive and are key to continuing our mission of securing a future for wildlife.”
The Micronesian Kingfisher is a small, forest-dwelling species. Unlike the kingfishers native to Texas, it does not live around water and feed on fish but prefers eating insects and small lizards. They nest in cavities in palm logs, which they hollow out themselves as part of their courtship. They lay 1-3 small, white eggs per clutch, and can have multiple clutches of eggs in a breeding season.
This species was native only to the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. After World War II, fighter planes returning state-side used Guam as a landing and refueling station before continuing their journey. At least one of these planes had a stowaway, the Brown Tree Snake, literally snakes on a plane. Having no natural predators of its own, the Brown Tree Snake rapidly multiplied and spread across the island in the 1950s. The native wildlife had never seen snakes before and did not recognize them as a threat, so these snakes were able to easily eat adult birds, chicks, and eggs right out of nests. By 1980, 6 of the 8 endemic species to Guam were completely extinct. Brown Tree Snakes are still widespread on Guam despite eradication efforts. At one time, Guam had the highest concentration of snakes anywhere in the world.
By 1980, scientists scrambled to save the few remaining birds left on Guam. They brought 30 Micronesian Kingfishers into AZA facilities and begin coordinated breeding programs to save the species. San Antonio Zoo has a long history participating in conservation programs, working to save birds from extinction. The Micronesian Kingfisher couple can be found in the Hixon Bird House.
A huge thanks to the San Antonio Zoo and other AZA facilities for taking part in this conservation program. As a 501(3) non-profit organization, San Antonio Zoo relies on ticket sales, guest visits, and donations to operate. The zoo is on the road to recovery and asking the community to consider donating to its recovery fund, assisting in the care of its animals and team members at www.sazoo.org/recovery.
Cover Photo Credit: San Antonio Zoo