This tiny chick might currently look more like a Brillo Pad than an exotic bird – but it’s soon going to scrub up well! Twenty-one-day-old Kola is one of two rare White-naped Pheasant Pigeons to have hatched at Chester Zoo in England, where they are receiving around-the-clock care in their early days.
After being rejected by their parents, the chicks are being hand-reared by keepers who have devised a special diet suited to their needs. And amusingly, given their startling resemblance to Brillo Pads, keepers are actually using scouring pads to help look after their new charges.
Keeper Gareth Evans (pictured above) says, “Hand-feeding them is a tricky business but we use a scouring pad to make things a little easier. It gives them something to grip onto to make sure they don’t slip and slide around, helping their feet and legs to develop properly. Normally they’d be on a nest on the ground made up of lots of little sticks and twigs so a scouring pad acts to create the grip they’d get from the nest.
“Adult Pheasant Pigeons produce a unique crop milk which they regurgitate to feed to their young. So when we have to hand-rear we have to try and replicate that using a set of special ingredients, featuring egg, water and vitamin pellets. I give Kola his first feed of the day at 6am and his last is at 10pm. So I really am playing the full-time parent.”
In the wild, White-naped Pheasant Pigeons only inhabit the Aru Islands, close to Papua in Indonesia.
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Curator of birds, Andrew Owen, says, “Our two latest hatchlings are very important young birds indeed. They are only found on the Aru Islands and recently the species has been reclassified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable to extinction – so they face an uncertain future.
“On top of that very few institutions in the world actually keep the species and so each and every new hatching is vital to the safety-net population which is held in zoos.
“White-naped pheasant pigeons are very, very difficult to hand-rear but our experiences are now providing us with the vital skills that are needed. We are one of the most successful zoos in Europe when it comes to breeding this species and we’re absolutely thrilled with our latest arrivals.”
A second chick, which keepers have named Wokam after the largest Aru Island, is also being hand-reared at the zoo. They are weighed regularly to track their development.
Staff hope their round-the-clock care will see the rare birds grow to become striking adults – like those seen in the zoo’s Islands in Danger exhibit.