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11:48 AM

Foster Parenting Effective Tool for Audubon Zoo Bird Department

Who's Your Daddy (And Your Momma)?

A flurry of recent hatchings overseen by the Audubon Zoo bird department has put a new spin on the definition of extended family.

Some new arrivals - a straw-necked ibis and twelve guinea fowl chicks – are being raised by foster parents.

And both episodes have back stories.

Following the recent discovery of an ibis egg, Audubon animal care staffers noticed that the young, inexperienced mother had not built a proper nest, prompting them to remove the egg for artificial incubation. In the meantime, they gave an artificial egg to a pair of straw-necks that were already nesting. When the real egg started to hatch, it was given to the foster parents to hatch and raise.

“The foster parents jumped in and did a great job accepting the hatching egg," said Audubon Curator of Birds Carolyn Atherton.

When checking the progress of the hatching egg, Atherton detected a problem: The egg membrane was drying up and the chick was having difficulties completing the hatching process. A veterinarian was brought in to assist in hatching the chick and when it was mostly out, the egg was placed back under the foster parents.

“It hatched out completely and the foster parents are doing a wonderful job raising the chick.’’ Atherton said. “The chick and parents are visible in the Audubon Zoo aviary on their nest near the waterfall.’’

Audubon’s free-roaming flock of guinea fowl lay eggs all the time. But if they were to sit on nests out in the open, the females would be vulnerable to natural predators such as raccoons. To keep them safe, bird care professionals gather the eggs, artificially incubate them and hatch them out.

At that point, another species is brought in to help.

“Once they have hatched, we give them to a foster chicken to raise,’’ Atherton said “These chicks are currently being raised by our best foster mom, a buff orpington chicken named Sarah.''

Sarah is raising two batches of chicks, a group of five and a younger group of seven. When they are big enough, they will be introduced to the adult flock of guineas that roam the zoo.

Other Audubon Zoo newborns enjoying a more traditional rearing process during an active spring include a king vulture, a silver-beaked tananger, a sunbittern, a green aracari and a Luzon bleeding-heart, a ground dove that gets its name from the splash of vivid red feathers on its white breast which resembles a bleeding wound.

Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs, and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.