For the Birds Radio Program: At the Zoo

Original Air Date: Feb. 16, 1987

Today would be a great day to go to the zoo.

Duration: 4′02″


(Recording of a Black-crowned Night Heron)

Last weekend I watched a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons catching fish right here in Duluth. They weren’t early migrants from the south–they live right here–at the zoo.

(Recording of “Zoo”)

Late winter is a nice time to go to the zoo–You can see two bright male robins right in the main building, along with the adult male oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, four Evening Grosbeaks, and a junco. These birds were all brought to the zoo with injuries–they’ll be released as soon as they are ready to fend for themselves.

There aren’t too many native Minnesota birds at the zoo, but the ones there are in good condition. A pair of Kestrels are in the Children’s Zoo building–people don’t often take the time to look at these birds sitting on wires in farm country or hovering over a field, and so many zoo visitors when I was there expressed surprise at the bright colors of these tiny falcons.

There’s a golden plover in winter plumage walking loose on the rocks by the turtle pool in the children’s zoo building. I’m eager to watch it molt into breeding plumage over the next several weeks. The Lesser Golden-Plover is one of the most spectacular shorebirds in the world in its spring plumage, and its fun to watch it uncaged at close range.

There are Canada Geese and Mallards outside, an American White Pelican, a Tundra Swan, a pintail or two and a wood duck in the camel house, and lots of pigeons. If you like exotics, there’s a Macaw in the children’s zoo that says “Polly wanna cracker.” He utterly delighted my five-year old son Joey. Four Cockatiels, a parakeet, and several parrots also contributed to the tropical ambience of the children’s zoo. But my favorite birds in the whole place were the two Black-crowned Night Herons in the camel house. People who visited the zoo last year may recall the heron loose in the children’s zoo, where the golden- plover is now. It was very tame, and put on quite a show whenever the docents put minnows in the pond. But when it grew territorial and started pecking at people, they had to move it where it couldn’t get into so much mischief. This one is now king of the roost in the camel house, bullying peafowl, ducks, and the zoo keepers. Another Black- crowned Night Heron is in the same enclosure, but it isn’t quite so assertive. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron, which is a more southerly bird only rarely found in Minnesota and Wisconsin, will soon be joining it from the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis. These Camel House birds seem quite content, driving home the fact that most birds have no sense of smell. [UPDATE–this has been proven false.]

If you’re anxious for spring, a visit to the zoo may be just what you need. If you’re off work for Washington-Lincoln Day, why not stop there today?

(Recording “At the Zoo”)

That was Simon and Garfunkel, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”