September 25, 2018
Flying Colors for a Bee-eater Chick
- as seen by -Lisa Walker
On July 25, 2018, I was called to the Bronx Zoo’s World of Birds bee-eater exhibit by senior wild animal keeper Patti Cooper. She was cradling a white-throated bee-eater chick in her hand that weighed about a third of an ounce (8.6 grams). The tiny bird was featherless, its eyes squeezed shut. We estimated it to be between five and seven days old. It had apparently fallen from its nest. Bee-eater chicks typically spend their first month of life tucked away in a long burrow and are fed by their parents. We have raised many chicks in the World of Birds brooder room, but we could not recall successfully hand-rearing and reintroducing a bee-eater chick back into our bee-eater group. We proceeded with great care.
We tried several shelters to mimic the environment of the burrow. Before we knew it, the little chick was scooting all over when we opened the incubator door. In less than a month, Scooter (named for its mobility) developed pin feathers and showed readiness for more space. The chick was introduced to several sibling and adult white-throated and white-fronted bee-eaters to pick up behavioral cues for smooth integration into the larger group.
Scooter’s big day to rejoin the Bronx Zoo bee-eaters came on September 1. The youngster’s weight was good — nearly three-quarters of an ounce (20 grams). Its flight was strong, and it had stopped taking food from us. Before releasing Scooter, we took a feather sample to test for gender and applied some green food coloring to its white throat patch so we could easily spot this special bird and monitor its progress. We soon saw adult white-throated bee-eaters feeding it — a part of their highly social colony behavior where extended family members help to feed chicks. Scooter was recently spotted eating from food dishes on its own and even catching a cricket tossed into the air.
It is the best feeling to see this young bird thrive in its established group. Only a short time ago, it depended on keepers for every single one of its needs.
Come and visit Scooter at the World of Birds. Look for its little green throat before the food coloring fades away.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the writing of this post, the feather gender test came back – Scooter is a female!