Diego Zoo, not open to public
Opening date: 1980
Features: incubator room, brooder room, kitchen, office, lockers, and off-exhibit enclosures that can house up to 300 adult birds and up to hundreds of young birds in a season
Number of staff: up to 16 during the breeding season (March to August)
• The Zoological Society of San Diego's Bird Collection
• Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program
• California Condor Recovery Program
• Animal Bytes: Birds
• Read Weblogs from Hawaiian bird project staff
Avian Propagation Center
Breeding endangered birds
APC staff candles eggs, like this kiwi egg, to make sure the embryo is developing normally.
Getting rare and endangered birds to mate, lay eggs, hatch, and rear babies isn't always as easy as it sounds. That's why there is an Avian Propagation Center (APC) at the San Diego Zoo. The APC is devoted to promoting the reproduction of birds. Its mission can take many forms: encouraging birds to pair off and mate, monitoring their parental care, artificially incubating and hatching eggs, hand-feeding baby birds, or rescuing chicks that receive inadequate parental care or get sick.
It takes gentle and capable hands to syringe-feed this blue-eared lory chick.
Nothing can match the APC for its success with hard-to-breed species. By focusing on birds that usually do not breed well in managed care facilities, the APC has had several significant achievements with species such as the Micronesian kingfisher, harpy eagle, and birds of paradise. In 1983, the APC "got the egg rolling" by caring for the first captive hatch of a California condor. The egg was laid in the wild and brought to the APC for incubation. The young hatchling, named Sisquoc, was then sent to live at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. And methods established at the APC were used to get the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program and the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike Program up and running, where they have had their share of successes as well.
A great blue turaco chick is carefully hand-fed by an APC keeper.
There are many variables in bird breeding. Keepers make sure the proper type of nest—a nest box, basket, or other platform—and enough nesting material are provided, as well as the right kind of perches and hiding places, along with proper nutrition. When an egg is laid at the Zoo, it is sometimes brought to the APC for incubation where it is logged in, weighed, and examined with a bright light, a procedure called candling, to determine if it is fertile and how the embryo is developing. A computer database is used to keep track of the ideal incubation and hatching conditions for each species: temperature, humidity, length of incubation, and more.
Hand raising baby birds is very labor intensive and can be tricky. Altricial chicks, such as lories and hornbills, are helpless when they hatch, often naked and with eyes closed and completely dependent on the parent or a surrogate, like an APC keeper. They must be kept continuously warm for several weeks or months, and their prepared food must be placed directly in their mouths. Keepers use tweezers, forceps, syringes, or spoons to feed the youngsters, depending on the species. Again, detailed records on feedings and development are kept on a computer database for easy access.
"Graduates" of the APC can be seen in exhibits all over the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park, and many fledglings are sent to other zoos that need them for breeding programs. We are extremely lucky to have this facility with its expert staff.
- The APC has incubated, hatched, and reared almost 300 species of birds, more than any other zoo in the United States.
- There are about 20 incubators and hatchers, all of different sizes and designs, that are used at the APC for the precious eggs, which require different temperatures and humidity, depending on the species.
- Between 200 and 300 eggs are incubated each year at the APC.
- About 150 birds are hand raised by the APC staff each year.
- The APC is the largest of any zoological facility in North America.