By Andrew Ocampo, Director of Aviculture
Spring is probably my favorite time of year at the Conservancy. We have so much to offer as the birds and environment continue to wake up from our long winter as we move into breeding season. Last year we had one of our best years rearing Scaly-sided Mergansers, raising over 20 ducklings. The Conservancy also saw its first Tundra Swan eggs ever. Although they were infertile, it was a step in the right direction. We were also able to raise several challenging species including Spectacled Eiders, Common Eiders, and Common Mergansers.
Over the course of the year, we continued to run our internship program which introduces future aviculturists and environmental educators to the birds here at Ripley. As many internships were cancelled due to Covid, we were fortunate to be able to offer this opportunity in a safe way.
During the winter months, we partnered with the University of Missouri to facilitate a research project at the Conservancy. GPS units were affixed to our Black Ducks and Mallards to assess their fit and function. Ripley staff then filmed the birds' activity, enabling researchers to pair signals from the transmitter with the birds' movement. In February of this year, the units were deployed on wild American Black Ducks along the east cost to help biologists better understand breeding behavior in a natural setting.
Lastly, in September of 2020, we were fortunate enough to welcome an adult pair of Siberian Cranes, a species critically endangered in the wild. With only a handful in captivity, they are something to behold. The pair will be sure to greet you during your next visit! All in all, it was a busy year for us, but we missed having our normal number of visitors to share in our work and passion.
With the new year and things back in full swing, we are excited to be open at full capacity once again. We are now offering public visitation on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm through the end of November. Hawk Walks and guided tours are also available and can be booked through our website. We hope to see you in the future so we can share some of our recent hatches and future aspirations. Please stay tuned for seasonal tidings to keep you up to date with exciting news from the flock!
News from the Flock
By Logan Connor, Aviculture Manager
Spring time for most people means spending more time outside and preparing for the summer months ahead. Here at Ripley spring time means checking nests and preparing for this year's hatch of ducklings, goslings, cygnets, and chicks. If you visited the Conservancy throughout the winter or early spring, you likely saw males of varying species putting on their best displays to impress the females. All of that effort was an attempt to attract mates for this spring. Although males will continue their courtship displays, most of the pairs have already been decided and it is now up to the female to choose an adequate nesting location and begin laying eggs.
So far this spring we have had a total of 26 species begin nesting. All four swan species (Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, Black Swans, and Whooper Swans) have laid eggs. We have multiple species of geese currently building nests in our fields, and nest boxes are being "rented out" every day. In the barn, incubators are filling up quickly and we have the first hatches of the season (Wood Ducks, Common Mergansers, and South Georgia Pintail ducklings) splashing in the brooders.
As spring moves towards summer, we are looking forward to what is still to come. Now that the weather seems to be warming up, we are hopeful that more birds will continue to lay. Some of our most important species generally do not begin nesting until the end of May (Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Scoters, King Eiders and Spectacled Eiders). In the meantime, we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that they have ample opportunity to find the perfect nesting site.
Last year was all about cranes! This year, we're excited to welcome an Edwards's Pheasant to our collection. The pheasants that call the Conservancy home are some of the most striking birds we have at the Conservancy. Our Reeves's Pheasant boasts stunning 3 foot long tail feathers. Our Impeyan Pheasant, although skittish and elusive, is always a favorite with visitors for its iridescent, metallic-colored plumage. The Edwards's Pheasant is no different. With an iridescent blue-black body, red facial skin and white crest, it is another eye-catcher.
A critical part of Ripley's mission is to protect and preserve endangered species, not only through conservation and captive breeding but also through education. The Edwards's Pheasant is an important ambassador for our mission. Once native to central Vietnam, they are now thought to be extinct in the wild, with no sightings since 2000. If it were not for the birds that exist in aviaries throughout the world, they would be gone forever. Conservation groups in Asia are working on an Action Plan to hopefully re-introduce these birds into the wild. Keeping diverse genetics in captive collections ensures healthy birds for future re-introduction projects.
Conserving endangered species in captivity is vital but it is not enough. Educating and inspiring the next generation of conservationists is critical to the future of our planet's wildlife. That is why our aviaries are so important. We are able to offer a close-up experience with at-risk species, creating a connection to nature and hopefully motivating visitors to take action in defense of the environment. If you have visited the Conservancy, you may have noticed that our pheasants are quite hard to spot. Or maybe you haven't seen them at all. It is difficult to cultivate a connection to our pheasants if they cannot be seen!
This year we hope to construct a brand new Ripley Pheasantry. This specialized aviary will be dedicated to our pheasants, allowing us to showcase their beauty, educate visitors about their plight, and offer an ideal breeding environment so we may continue to preserve their genetics in captivity. But we need your help! Contributions made will not only directly support the care of our flock, but will also aid in the construction of new projects such as the Pheasantry. If you would like to make a donation to the Conservancy, please consider joining the 2021 Annual Benefit Committee!