Wetlands…in the desert? Yes, it’s true! There’s a new exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo called “The Wetlands.” The first residents are already moved in. And, they’re famous! You’ve seen them on TV…but you won’t recognize them.
(Courtesy of Glen Creno – Arizona Republic)
The Phoenix Zoo’s new pelicans have covered a lot of ground in the past few weeks.
They were saved from the Gulf Coast spill by rescuers looking for birds coated with oil. Their wings were injured, they couldn’t fly and they were taken to a zoo in Mississippi for treatment.
“They were managing to survive out in the Gulf. But the fear was they could not get out of the slick that was on the way,” said Dan Subaitis, the zoo’s director of animal management. “They are in great shape except for wing injuries.”
The big white birds with black markings, known as American white pelicans, are the first residents of the Phoenix Zoo’s new wetlands exhibit. They have water for swimming, grassy hills for relaxing and a steady diet of herring or trout handed out twice a day.
One pelican refused to eat after leaving quarantine, so he’s back under medical observation. He was eating in quarantine and officials think he’ll be fine once he gets used to the new environment.
“I think we caught him in time,” said John Sills, the zoo’s collection manager for birds.
The pelicans are among the largest birds in North America. They can weigh from 10 to 20 pounds, with wingspans from about 8 to 9 1/2 feet, according to Cornell University’s ornithology lab.
Besides their color, they differ from brown pelicans in the way they catch fish. Brown pelicans dive into water to snatch fish. White pelicans cruise on the surface and stick their heads underwater to grab fish. They often fish as a group.
The zoo also plans to bring Chilean flamingos, sandhill cranes and red brocket deer to the wetlands exhibit, formerly called the “swamp” and home to a couple of alligators. The gators are gone; one died and the other was transferred to another zoo.
Zoo member Skip Webber of Phoenix was watching the pelicans recently. He likes to hike through the zoo in the morning. The pelican pond has become a favorite stop. He said the birds are venturing into the water more often as they relax and adjust to their new home.
“They’re pretty animals,” he said. “I just like seeing how they’re going to be doing here.”