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Significant hatches at Franklin Park Zoo

Birds of a feather may flock together, but at Franklin Park Zoo it seems they also hatch together. The Zoo staff is celebrating the recent hatches of two Siberian cranes, a pygmy falcon and a Cabot’s tragopan.

“Each of these hatches is significant, and as with any new hatch we are closely monitoring the chicks. It takes a lot of skill and dedication from the zookeepers to care for these young chicks,” said Frederick Beall, Zoo New England General Curator. “We hope our guests have the opportunity to learn about all of these birds, and the role they play in healthy ecosystems, during their visit.”

Siberian cranes

The Siberian cranes hatched on May 5 and 8. The chicks are the offspring of Sneetch, age 23, and Shakti, age 25. The older chick, whose sex is not yet known, is being raised by its parents, while the younger chick, a female, is being raised by the Zoo’s Animal Management staff. While possible, it is uncommon for any crane species to successfully rear two chicks. For the younger chick’s survival, it was decided that staff needed to intervene after the parents showed little interest in attending the second egg after the first had hatched.

In the wild, Siberian cranes breed in the high Arctic regions of Siberia. These birds, which are critically endangered, stand about 5-feet tall and are noted for their pure white plumage and black flight feathers. It is estimated that only 3,000 of these birds remain in the wild.

There are only 23 Siberian cranes in captivity in four North American institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Franklin Park Zoo, the only zoo to exhibit these birds on the East Coast, is home to eight Siberian cranes including the new chicks. Since 1999, there have been 13 chicks, including the newest chicks, hatched at the Zoo. Franklin Park Zoo is the first zoo in North America to have successfully bred these birds.

Through the years, Zoo New England has made a strong commitment to crane conservation, and more recently has partnered to protect and conserve whooping cranes, an AZA SAFE species.

African pygmy falcon

On April 2 and 3, the staff welcomed two tiny new feathered faces with the hatches of African pygmy falcons. Unfortunately, one of the chicks only survived a few days following its hatch. The second chick is thriving and doing well.

While Zoo New England’s animal management and veterinary staff prefer to have baby animals raised by their parents as they would be in the wild, this chick is being hand-reared by Zoo staff to increase its chance of survival.

Raising African pygmy falcon chicks requires a lot of attentive care. Throughout the first week after hatching, the dedicated staff carefully fed the small bird six to seven times a day. Each week, the feedings decrease. By 24 to 26 days old, the birds typically become self-feeders. At this time, the chicks are about the same size as an American robin.

Franklin Park Zoo has exhibited African pygmy falcons since 1999. The chicks are the offspring of a pair who arrived in early December from a science center in Sweden.

African pygmy falcons are small raptors native to the arid and semi-arid grasslands of eastern and southern Africa. These chicks, when hatched average 5-6 grams, and obtain weights of 54 to 90 grams full-grown. They are among the smallest of the falcon species. They are common in their native range and are not known to migrate - their range is determined by the availability of weaver nests used to roost and nest in.

Cabot’s tragopan

On May 8, the staff in the new Children’s Zoo at Franklin Park Zoo celebrated the hatch of a Cabot’s tragopan – a first for Zoo New England.

Like the African pygmy falcons, staff is also hand raising the Cabot’s tragopan chick, which can be seen in the Brooder Barn in Franklin Farm. When the chick, a female, is big enough, it will join its parents inside the Wetlands Aviary inside Nature’s Neighborhoods – the new George Robert White Fund Children’s Zoo.

Even with the female tragopan’s intensive care and protection, both wild and captive hatched tragopan chicks experience high mortality. To increase the odds of the chick’s survival, it is being cared for by Zoo staff.

A vulnerable species native to southeast China, Cabot’s tragopans reside in hilly evergreen forests where they forage for leaves, fruits, seeds and insects. In the wild, these birds face threats from habitat loss due to farming and logging.

Male Cabot’s tragopans are noted for the rich reddish brown feathers on their back with large tan markings. Their chests are covered with light tan feathers, while their black heads feature orange facial skin with streaks of brilliant blue. Female Cabot’s tragopans’ plumage is not as bright. Their dark brown feathers serve as camouflage during nesting and chick rearing.

 Video courtesy of Sarah Woodruff and Rachel Galvez