Cassowaries Arrive at the Greensboro Science Center

GREENSBORO, NC — The Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is pleased to announce the arrival of the very first animals acquired for Revolution Ridge, the GSC’s zoo expansion (expected to be completed in 2020). A sibling pair (a male named Dodo and a female named Moa) of southern cassowaries have recently arrived from California and will be spending the next few weeks in quarantine.

Hospital and Commissary Keeper Jennie Burleyson is charged with caring for the cassowaries as they complete their quarantine period. “Quarantine is a mandatory period of time that all new animals go through to make sure they are healthy enough to join the current collection,” Burleyson says. “It’s also a great way to learn about the individuals and their preferences. For example, we’ve learned that our cassowaries’ favorite food is grapes!”

At just 5 months old, the cassowaries are currently sporting their light brown juvenile plumage. Brightly colored feathers come with maturity and typically appear by age 4. The young birds are only about 3 feet tall, but adults can reach up to 5.8 feet in height. The male currently weighs approximately 24 pounds and the female weighs about 16.5 pounds. Adult weights average around 121 pounds for males and 167 pounds for females. Once fully grown, the cassowaries will loosely resemble a modern-day velociraptor and possess specialized feet and claws capable of inflicting serious damage, if threatened.

Burleyson tells us that currently, the male is relatively shy while the female is much more dominant. The birds have enjoyed playing in pools indoors and getting a little exercise outside. “At least 30 minutes of exercise is recommended for cassowaries at this age,” Burleyson says. “That’s why it’s so great having two young ones — they can play together!”

The cassowaries will remain in quarantine until cleared by the GSC veterinarian. After that time, they will be placed in a temporary holding space until their new exhibit in Revolution Ridge is complete. Thanks to The Dillard Fund, Inc., the new cassowary exhibit will combine a dense forest with the open field habitat necessary for breeding this highly unique, shy and rarely-observed species.

GSC CEO Glenn Doborogosz says, “The blends of color, beauty, speed and ferocity of this primitive flightless bird will inspire awe and interest in our guests. The goal is to transform that awe into knowledge, because knowledge and appreciation are the keys to conserving species across the globe.”

We’re not sick, we’re molting!

All birds molt, or lose feathers, on a yearly basis. Some birds molt a few feathers at a time, while other birds, such as penguins, molt all of their feathers at once. The total process generally lasts between 4-6 weeks.

Molting Vs. Not Molting

Comparative view: The penguin on the right is in the process of molting.

Imagine having the same sweater on for one whole year…during this time, it might become worn out and need to be replaced. This is essentially how penguins’ feathers work. Their feathers become worn out and broken over the course of the year and it is necessary for a new set of feathers to replace the old set.

There are 3 stages to molt:

  1. Pre-molt
  2. Dropping feathers
  3. Gaining weight back

1. For several weeks leading up to molt, penguins begin gorging themselves with fish. Generally, a penguin will eat approximately 1lb of fish each day. Leading up to their molt, a penguin can eat up to 40% of their body weight daily. These extra calories allow new feathers to be produced under their skin. A penguin usually weighs 7-8lbs, but after bulking up pre-molt, they can weigh up to 11lbs.

2. Once the penguin has reached their maximum weight, they begin to drop feathers. This process generally lasts 1-2 weeks. During this time, the animal is fasting (not eating) and allowing all the feathers to drop off its body while the new feathers come through. They must remain on land during this process due to their lack of waterproofing. They live off their body fat stored from the previous weeks.

Molting Penguin

Molting Penguin

3. The last part of the process, which entails the penguin’s body recovering, lasts another 1-2 weeks. During this time, they gain waterproofing once again on their feathers and begin hunting fish to regain all the weight lost.

Molting generally happens once a year at approximately the same time for each bird (typically between April-Aug). So the next time you see one of us looking a little puffy and uncomfortable, don’t worry, we are just updating our wardrobe. Soon we will be ready to show off our new sleek, shiny new coat of feathers.

Bluebird Boxes Seeing Activity

Bluebird with Bug

Bluebird with Bug

Bluebird boxes are strategically placed throughout Animal Discovery Zoo near grassy areas to encourage nesting. Last year, we had several broods of baby bluebirds and it seems like our efforts are paying off again this year!

We’ve seen several bluebirds flitting around the zoo and this morning, we captured proof that at least one pair has built a nest in one of our bluebird nest boxes. As we watched, the bird caught an insect and brought it to the nest box to feed the baby bluebirds breakfast!

Bluebird Bringing Breakfast

Bluebird Bringing Breakfast

Eastern Bluebirds: A Conservation Success Story

In the first half of the 20th century, Eastern Bluebirds’ survival was threatened primarily by the introduction of Starlings and House Sparrows to their native habitat. These birds were big competition for nesting spots and often invaded Eastern Bluebirds’ nests, destroyed them and killed baby birds. In fact, by the 1960s, scientists were worried the decline in population might even lead to extinction.

Saving a Species

Bird lovers throughout the eastern half of the United States took great strides to save the eastern bluebird by building nest boxes. To ensure Starlings stay away from baby bluebirds, nest boxes need to be big enough to allow bluebirds entry, but small enough to prevent Starlings from accessing the interior.

Finn: An Eastern Bluebird

Finn: An Eastern Bluebird

Our Spokesbird

Meet Finn, an Eastern Bluebird who resides in the Discovery House. He came to us from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute at Lees-McCrae College as an orphaned chick from last spring. He will be turning one year old in April. In the wild, Eastern Bluebirds eat mainly ground insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets and beetles, but in captivity, Finn enjoys a pelleted insectivore diet and a few mealworms. Finn is a reminder to Greensboro Science Center visitors about the importance of bluebird conservation. Say hi to him on your next visit!

The Greensboro Science Center’s Efforts

Bluebird Box

Bluebird Box in Animal Discovery Zoo

If you walk around Animal Discovery near the Friendly Farm, you’ll notice several bluebird nest boxes strategically placed around grassy clearings. Since the majority of a bluebird’s diet consists of insects and other invertebrates, these grassy fields are the perfect hunting grounds for the birds to find food. Providing a home near food is just one way the Center encourages bluebird nesting.

Baby Bluebird

Baby Bluebird from Spring 2012

Last year, our nesting boxes were a great success! We had a brood of baby bluebirds and enjoyed watching them thrive right in our own backyard. We hope this year will prove just as prosperous for our feathered friends. Stay tuned to our blog to see if we have any successful nests this year!