Four Hummingbird Zoo Curators Interviewed How they cage, feed, and care for their hummingbirds.
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Amy Flanagan of the San Diego Zoo, Ken Reininger of the North Carolina Zoo, Jim Dunster at the Pittsburgh National Aviary, and Michael Mace at the San Diego Wild Animal Park very graciously agreed to on-line interviews about the hummingbirds in their care. Here are some to the results from those interviews:
All of the zoos feed their birds a diet of Neckar Plus by Nekton, USA. It's a sugar solution with protein supplement. They also raise fruitflies, in some cases flies bred without wings to better control them, and release them into the aviaries. Additionally, the birds feed on a wide variety of small insects that naturally occur in the aviaries. There is a second commercial hummingbird food available from the Roudybush company, but no one seems to use it.
The number of hummingbirds in captivity is down significantly across the nation. For example, the San Diego Zoo, which once had dozens, now only has three. The reasons are that no one has been able to establish the proper conditions for breeding sustained populations of hummingbirds and that importing them has become almost impossible. The facility at the Arizona-Sonora Museum has had the best luck raising birds in the last decade, largely because they use indigenous species.
All of the zoos with at least one sexed pair of birds has reported nest building and, on a few occasions, eggs being laid. However, very few babies are hatching and almost none successfully raised to adulthood.
Considering the almost non-existent birth rate, it is fortunate the hummingbirds live so long. They are unusual in the animal world, where small size usually means a short lifetime, in that they routinely live seven to ten years.
Because there is so little information on keeping hummingbirds, there was no consensus on the most common causes of death. However, trauma and fungal diseases seem to be the chief causes.
All of the curators stated that they get their hummingbirds from other zoos or wild birds that have been injured and brought back to health by certified rehabilitators. When I asked about importation, I felt there was a reluctance to admit that they do this and an equal reluctance to mention which importers traffic in hummingbirds. However, I didn't press this point and my perception may be incorrect.
There is currently a massive program to develop captive husbandry guides for every species of animal. Each family of animal is being studied by what is called a Taxon Advisory Group (TAG). While such a group does exist for hummingbirds, they have yet (2005) to complete their care guideline. The hummingbird TAG also works to coordinate the transfer of information on an informal basis between zoos so that birds receive the best care possible. Information is also coordinated through the American Zoological Association and the American Association of ZooKeepers.
I would like to thank all of the curators that took time out of their busy schedules to talk to me. They were all friendly and eager to answer my questions.
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