Birdy Spotlight: Waterfowl

Written by Alex Gianetti, Animal Care Professional

This is a very special year for the birders, like me, across the globe. 2018 marks the centennial signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act! Many say it’s the most powerful and important bird protection law ever passed. Every month, the Aviary team will spotlight birds who need our help. This month - waterfowl!

ZooTampa at Lowry Park currently cares for a diverse range of waterfowl within the Anatidae family which is comprised of ducks, swans, and geese.

The first bird to be highlighted is the Nene (Nay-Nay) goose, which is the state bird of Hawaii. These geese are unique as they are predominantly terrestrial. In order to trek around on rugged lava flows, the Nene has longer legs and a reduction of webbing between their toes. In the early 1950's, their wild population was estimated to be only around 30 geese in comparison to today’s population, which is in the mid-2,000s. Hawaii has made huge efforts in conservation to preserve and grow the Nene’s population. The protection of their habitat and reduction of predation by both humans and other predators have played an important role in the species revival. Refuges have played an even larger part in the revival of the Nene. Several refuges throughout Hawaii have been so successful in conserving the Nene that over 2,000 geese were reintroduced to the wild in 2009. You can visit our resident Nene goose “Ohana” in the Sulawesi aviary!

Next up is the Hooded Merganser. While both males and females have a crest, these ducks are dimorphic meaning they differ in appearance. Females are generally brown with a short and plain crest, while the males’ crest is large in proportion to their bodies and accented with a large white patch on both sides. The Mergansers’ diet is primarily made up of fish with a smaller portion being aquatic insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and invertebrates. Due to this specific diet, Mergansers have developed serrated bills in order to easily hold on to their prey. Sadly, their population has seen a recent decline due to pollution of water sources and deforestation with pollution being their biggest enemy. Hooded Mergansers are cavity nesters and large-scale deforestation has greatly reduced the number of available nesting locations for them. Although these ducks will take advantage of nest boxes put out specifically to help other wild duck populations. You can visit our pair of Hooded Mergansers, Clarice and Maurice, in our Florida aviary!

Finally, we will highlight the Wood Duck! Their range extends throughout  North America and there is a good chance you’ve seen these ducks in the wild. This species is also sexually dimorphic, with the males exhibiting iridescent green faces and crests accented white stripes as well as bold colors and patterns on their bodies and the females are typically a muted brown color. This species prefers to live in swamps and marshes that have an abundant amount of vegetation for foraging and also for hiding. Wood Ducks have adapted sharp claws that they use for perching in trees. Their population was in serious decline in the late 19th century due to habitat loss and hunting for both their meat and their plumage. However, in response to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, populations began to slowly recover! Without Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there is a chance that the wood duck would be in serious decline today. You can visit both our male and female woods ducks in the Florida aviary!