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Brooding roadrunners reward resourceful caretakers

Tuesday, 03 July 2018
Brooding roadrunners reward resourceful caretakers

With a lot of patience and creativity, the animal caretakers and biologists of Royal Burgers’ Zoo have successfully achieved a couple of roadrunners raising their three young. It is rare for these animals, of which there are only 26 living in European zoos, to brood naturally in zoos. Tuesday morning 3 July, the young birds left the nest for the first time allowing the caretakers to gather feathers for sexing. The natural brooding success is the first in fourteen years for the Arnhem animal park and was achieved by employing a number of strategies.

Roadrunners spread over three different locations

Roadrunners are an important bird species in the educational story that Burgers’ Zoo wants to tell visitors in the Desert—the rocky desert of Arizona and northern Mexico. This charismatic bird, which symbolised the famous Looney Tunes cartoon character, is very energy efficient, an essential condition for survival in the desert. The Arnhem zoo has taken on the task of monitoring the European breeding programme for this bird species. The six Arnhem roadrunners were strategically divided over three enclosures throughout the zoo: two couples and two males together.

One particularly promising pair

From the Berlin Zoo, Burgers' Zoo received a fully grown female roadrunner who was naturally brooded. Receiving this bird was an exciting opportunity because birds reared by hand often find it difficult to brood their own young naturally. From Cotswold, England, Burgers' received a male bird who had previously managed—together with a female—to hatch an egg and keep the hatchling alive for ten days. The two birds were introduced to each other and hit it off on day one. On day two the female was already laying eggs. Animal caretakers placed this most promising couple in the modern breeding room behind the scenes.

Brooding males detect infertile eggs

Both male and female roadrunners take turns brooding. The couple housed in the Desert did lay eggs, but the eggs did not hatch. In the meantime, the two males in the bird department seemed very willing to brood, but, both being male, could not lay eggs. As soon as the caretakers offered the Desert couple’s eggs to the two males, they eagerly started brooding. After a while, this proved that the eggs were unfortunately infertile. To provide the possibility of natural brooding in the Desert in future, the biologists and caretakers are considering putting together a new breeding pair soon using one of the current young birds. Burgers' Zoo may also soon receive roadrunner eggs from Blijdorp Zoo, where the birds do lay eggs but unfortunately do not brood. Once the eggs are fertilised, the Arnhem animal park hopes that the two males in Burgers' Zoo will successfully brood.

The crowning glory!

Tuesday morning 3 July 2018: early in the morning, the three young roadrunners seemed to be about to leave the nest on their own. The parents also appeared to have laid three new eggs. The animal caretakers quickly took the opportunity to ring the young and collect some feathers for sexing. Once the birds leave the nest, they are a lot more challenging to catch. On inspection, the young roadrunners made a strong first impression. The European breeding programme is officially three naturally brooded roadrunners richer.



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