Ah, the sounds of Summer at SeaWorld San Antonio - the energetic music of Shamu Rocks!, the giggling of children frolicking around Sesame Street Bay of Play, and the pitter patter of….little webbed feet!
Over the past several months an incredible number of ducklings, goslings and other chicks have hatched at SeaWorld San Antonio, including Red-Crested Pochards, North American Ruddy Ducks, Mandarin Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Cinnamon Teal, Scarlet Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill. Some species, like the Hawaiian NeNe Goose, are endangered.
Scarlet Ibis Chick
Most of the duck eggs are laid inside nest boxes that Aviculture team members carefully situate around Flamingo Lake. Ducks can be prolific layers, with clutches of 8-12 eggs not uncommon. The nest boxes are carefully monitored, because at the first sign of “pipping,” which is when the chick first begins breaking through its eggshell, the eggs and their mother are moved to a protected area behind the scenes. The primary reason for this is to keep the newly hatched chicks safe from potential native predators, such as black vultures, hawks, raccoons, and other wildlife.
This combination of a protected space to grow, the watchful eye of their mom, and the diligent care of the Aviculture team has proven to be highly successful, with the proof lying in the dozens of healthy, thriving ducklings filling up the habitats outside the behind-the scenes “Bird House” area. The ducklings take to the water for their first swim after just a few days, and eat a highly specialized diet that is carefully staged to their current size and period of development. As they grow in size and strength the ducklings are given full run of an expansive, grass-covered habitat, where they spend their days swimming, chasing one another playfully, and following their mom.
The ducklings will spend several months in this habitat, until they “fledge,” or lose their fluffy chick down and grow in their adult feathers. They are then fitted with a leg band, which enables Aviculturists to tell each individual duck apart. Newly fledged ducks all tend to be brown, and thus resemble the typically more drab-colored female, so Aviculturists then have to wait many more months for the first-year ducks to “molt,” or replace their feathers, until they can actually tell if they are male or female!
4-day-old Spoonbill chick
The oldest of the ducklings will likely start being introduced into Flamingo Lake next week, with many more to follow as they grow and fledge. Then this fall, after all the ducklings have grown, the penguins will begin laying their eggs! All this “egg-cellent” activity keeps the Aviculture team very busy, but we are quite proud to proclaim that “something’s always hatching at SeaWorld San Antonio!”