Fluffy, spiked, and ready to delight: three new faces at Zoo New England are small in stature but big in the cute factor. The arrival of two scaly-sided merganser ducklings at Franklin Park Zoo and a prehensile-tailed porcupette at Stone Zoo have given Zoo staff and guests alike reason to celebrate this spring.
The two little ducklings hatched on April 28 and May 1 at Franklin Park Zoo. Scaly-sided mergansers are an endangered species, native to southern Russia and northern China, Korea, and Japan. As endangered birds, every hatch is important and plays a role in the preservation of the species, which is why this duckling duo is being hand-reared by their dedicated animal care team in Franklin Park Zoo’s brooder barn until they’re about 12-14 weeks old. At that time, the ducklings will move to their home in the Children’s Zoo Aviary, having had time to grow, develop, and receive all of their vaccinations to protect against the West Nile Virus.
Following a recent exam, Dr. Brianne Phillips, Zoo New England Associate Veterinarian, said “Both of the little ones appear healthy. They each weigh in at roughly a quarter of a pound, and are bright, alert, active, and eating well — which is all very encouraging and exciting for this rare species.”
As a predatory bird, mergansers play a role in their habitat by regulating populations of small fish, crustaceans, and insects. They swim underwater very efficiently in order to catch their prey. These beautiful waterfowl need clean water to survive, and they nest and breed along the banks of wild, free-flowing rivers and streams in northern Asia.
Zoo New England is a participant in the Scaly-sided Merganser Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. These hatches were the result of a recommended pairing between the ducklings’ parents.
At Stone Zoo, the newest and cutest face may not have wings but is still making hearts soar. With a reddish-brown coat, a pint-sized prehensile-tailed porcupette weighing just over a pound is settling in well with its mom after its May 23 birth, and can be seen on exhibit within Windows to the Wild.
The little one, believed to be a female, is the second offspring for parents Prickles and Shadow. Porcupines are typically solitary, and males do not play a role in raising babies — they could in fact pose a risk to the little one. Once the pregnancy was confirmed, Shadow was separated from Prickles.
“Prickles and her new baby are doing really well. The porcupette is nursing regularly from mom and gaining weight daily, which is great to see. This species is precocial and we expect the baby to be eating on its own in a month,” says Pete Costello, Stone Zoo Assistant Curator. “While it’s normal for a porcupine mom to be away from the baby with the exception of nursing, Prickles is spending more time near this baby than with her previous birth.”
Prehensile-tailed porcupines are born with soft quills that will harden over time. They are mobile almost immediately after birth, and you can often spot the baby at Stone Zoo lounging on perches within the exhibit.