Saturday, July 17, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the National Zoo

One of the highlights to last week's trip to DC has to be the tour of the bird exhibits at the National Zoo. We were met by Audubon's Liz Pomper and their head of bird conservation, Dr. Greg Butcher, who joined us for a behind-the-scenes tour of the bird house led by bird keeper Chris. The zoo has a great variety of birds, and many of their outdoor habitats are so hospitable that it can be hard to tell which birds are on display and which have adopted the zoo as their home. What impressed me most about the zoo was its committment to breeding, especially for endangered species. All aspects of breeding have been considered--from proper housing to nutrients. We were excited to see rare birds and their offspring given the best possible circumstances in order to thrive.
While on the tour, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Butcher who gave me an update on the brown pelicans in the Gulf region. He said Audubon has been working to improve the conditions of the current pelican population in states like Georgia and Texas, which aren't in imminent danger, as a means to help the species survive the catastrophe. He was, however, quoted in July 14th's USA Today with concerns about the shoreline birds who will ingest oil as they preen their feathers. During our tour, we also discussed other dangers to bird habitat including pesticide use in backyards. Pesticides, a petroleum-based product, interferes with ground water as well as posing a toxic threat to birds, a triple-whammy in my book.
Like all of the Smithsonians, it is free to get in, and definitely a wonderful experience, especially if you are a bird lover.