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Texas Zoo aviary ready for guests (video)

By Gheni_Platenburg
July 5, 2012 at 2:05 a.m.

A roseate spoonbill is a new addition to the renovated aviary at the Texas Zoo.

Facts about Black-bellied Whistling Ducks:

• Latin: Dendrocygna autumnalis

Average length: Male 19.4"; Female 19"

Average weight: Male 1.80 pounds; Female 1.85 pounds.

Description: Male and female black-bellied whistling ducks are similar in size and color. In general, black-bellied whistling ducks are long-legged, long-necked and the most erect of all ducks. They have a black belly with a chestnut nape, lower neck, chest and back. A chestnut cap tops the head. They boast a bright orange bill, gray face and upper neck and white eye ring. The long pink legs are easily observed while they are perched in trees. They are vociferous in flight, uttering a whistling "pe-che-che."

Breeding: The northern race (D. a. autumnalis) breeds from South Texas through coastal Mexico and Central America. Pairs most often partner for life and share the responsibilities of incubation and brood rearing. Nests are usually in tree cavities, nest boxes or on the ground in grassy areas or under brush or cacti near water. Ground nesting is most common where mammalian nest predators are absent. Female black-bellied whistling ducks lay an average of 13 eggs and several females lay in the same nest.

Migrating and Wintering: Black-bellied whistling ducks are migratory in the northern- and southernmost limits of their range. Large flocks are often observed in wintering areas in the lowlands of Mexico, though formerly more abundant in interior Mexico than at present. In the United States, they winter primarily in the South Texas Coast. Black-bellied whistling duck are widespread and common in Central America and South America south to northern Argentina (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).

Population: D. a. autumnalis (Caribbean) between 100,000 and 1,000,000. Black-bellied whistling ducks are susceptible to over-harvest because of their unwary nature.

Food habits: Black-bellied whistling ducks commonly feed at night on grain, seeds, some insects and mollusks and leaves and shoots found in fields and shallow water.

Source: ducks.org

Ruth Piana stared in awe as one of the residents of the Texas Zoo's newly renovated aviary exhibit flew up to its perch on Thursday morning.

"The spoon-billed pelican is flying, Mommy," the 4-year-old, dark-haired girl, who enjoys reading bird books, said. She pointed upward and eagerly tugged on the leg of her distracted mother's khaki shorts in hopes of getting her attention.

"Look, Mommy. They are flying," she said again, successfully drawing her mother into the bird watching.

Ruth and her mother, Lizzy, were two of several visitors to the new interactive aviary.

The aviary opened to the public on June 27, after an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on that day.

The renovations, which began in May, came courtesy of Invista, which donated $8,500 to cover the cost of new exhibit enclosures; an upgraded waterfall and pond; wiring; plants and mulch.

Plans for the exhibit include installing nesting boxes and a filter for the pond.

"Investments in our community come in all forms," said Steve Harvill, Invista Victoria site manager, in a media release. "The Texas Zoo is a true treasure of our community, and we are very pleased to be able to contribute to its long-term success."

The aviary redesign was modeled after the Invista Wetland, a 50-acre parcel that returns up to 3.2 million gallons of fresh water every day to the Guadalupe River and accommodates native wetland wildlife, including birds.

There are about 60 birds that reside in the aviary, including roseate spoonbills, white ibises, scarlet ibises, black-bellied whistling ducks, bungees and parakeets.

The open-flight area provides the public an opportunity to view the birds up close and personal.

"When they get an opportunity to interact with the animals, they learn so much more," said Michael Magaw, animal curator for the Texas Zoo. "People used to just pass through here. Now, they spend a little more time here."

Magaw said one of the biggest challenges about the exhibit was getting the birds adjusted to a new environment and people.

So far, the birds are doing well, Magaw said.

During the renovations, the birds were placed inside a large enclosure inside the exhibit.

The exhibit was busy with activity as colorful flocks of birds flew around trying to grab a bite, while others tried to cool off from the sweltering heat by wading in the cool pond waters.

Patrons have the opportunity to purchase special food sticks to feed the free-flying birds, who are not afraid to fly or walk right over and greet guests.

Revenue from the feed sticks is put back into improvements and upkeep of the exhibit.

"I like their colors, "said 8-year-old Kaylenn Losoya. "I can see the birds more closely instead of further away."

"I learned (the birds) are hungry, and they might like a treat," said 9-year-old South Carolina resident Anna Jones, as she held her feed stick out for six parakeets to grab a quick bite.

Parents also enjoyed the educational opportunity provided by the made-over exhibit.

"(Kaylenn) loved it," said Kaylenn's mom, Jessica Losoya. "That's why she has been bugging me to come back."

"It's great for kids their age," said Lizzy Piana. "It's a good learning opportunity."

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