Extinct possibilities

The zoo is breeding ferruginous ducks to release into the wild.

December 1, 2011 15:33
2 minute read.
Ferruginous duck

Duck 521. (photo credit: Courtesy/Wikimedia)


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In addition to housing animals taken from the wild, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is actively involved in returning them to their natural habitats. Visitors to the zoo can watch just such a project unfolding in the shape of a humble duck.

Ferruginous ducks are a species found across Europe and Asia, where they live on riverbanks and alongside other bodies of fresh water. However, recent years have seen a decline in numbers and the ducks are now under threat of extinction in Israel. One cause of the population drop is the change in reservoir building methods in which heavy-duty plastics are used to form the banks and basins of man-made reservoirs. These materials offer no refuge for the ducks, which like to build their nests in the foliage that grows beside the water.

In order to try to reestablish the ducks’ presence in Israel, the zoo acquired two pairs of ducks two years ago with the aim of breeding the birds locally.

The ducks have indeed produced offspring and some of these were recently released to nest beside the large lake at the entrance to the zoo. The hope is that the ducks will eventually leave the zoo to build nests in the wild. To track the birds’ progress, zoo staff wanted to fit them with plastic identity tags so that they can be monitored in the future. Ferruginous ducks are migratory and bird conservation organizations around the world regularly monitor birds with identity tags to learn more about their movements.
However, the ducks present something of a problem for the conservationists. A tag is usually attached to a bird’s leg where it will cause no harm or interference to the animal but is still visible to ornithologists who can easily spot the tagged birds. Ducks spend most of their time in the water and as a result their tags would be submerged, making them harder to find. This problem has been solved by attaching tags to the ducks’ beaks, a delicate process that zoo-keepers traveled to Germany to learn.

The first set of four young ducks has now been tagged and has taken up residence in the main lake. Ferruginous ducks are very good divers and often dive several meters below the surface to look for food. The ducks are brown in color and those that have been tagged can be identified by their fashionable beak piercings. While the tagged birds may soon leave for the wild, the original two pairs from France can still be viewed in the zoo’s marsh aviary along with some of their young offspring that will eventually be tagged and released to join their siblings in the wild. •

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