Native Bird Conservation Programs
Do you really know what local conservation projects your zoo may be involved in. Frequently our focus as docents is on the exotic animals in our zoos. The Detroit Zoo’s Mission Statement is “Celebrating and Saving Wildlife”. This paper will concentrate on the Detroit Zoo’s various local bird conservation projects for native species.
Trumpeter Swans were a native Great Lakes species. Market hunting caused its extermination in Michigan. The last known bird was killed in the St. Clair Flats in 1875. A reintroduction program was started in Michigan in 1987 as part of a regional effort. The goal was to have 200 breeding pairs in Michigan by 2000. There were two sources of genetic stock for the program. Long term captive trumpeter swans originated from birds originally from the Yellowstone area. The DNR collected eggs from Alaska. The two sources were 60% Yellowstone (mainly from zoos) and 60% from Alaska.
These captive breed birds are released in areas with the following characteristics: suitable habitat, no mute swans, areas without lead shot and the birds are feather=clipped so the stay in the area. The first recorded breeding was in 1992. Trumpeter Swans are beginning to replace mute Swans.
The project objective of the Osprey Project was to establish a breeding population in SE Michigan of 50 breeding pairs by 2020 and to provide opportunities for viewing wildlife. Reintroduction began in in 1998. Between 1998 and 2002 all birds were released in Kensington MP. In 2003-2007, birds have also been released at Stoney Creek MP. Osprey migrate to South America and return at two to three years of age. The first osprey returned to the area in 2001 and the first breeding occurred in 2002.
Several observations were reported throughout SE Michigan. In 2002, four chicks were produced in two nests. In 2010, 26 chicks were produced in 22 nests.
There are three populations of piping plovers: the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains are listed as threatened. The Great Lakes population is listed as endangered. Dr. Francesca (Francie) Cuthbert of U of M hypothesized that the eggs could be captive reared and the chicks released contributing to the population. In 1992, the USFWS gave Dr. Cuthbert permission to recover abandoned eggs and captive rear the resulting young. Rearing facilities were originally set up at the U of M Bio station. By 2000, the USFWS acknowledged that salvage captive rearing was a component of the recovery of this
species. The USFWS also asked if AZA institutions would be able to provide assistance in the captive rearing effort. In 2001. four institutions participated in the effort for part of the season: Detroit Zoo, Milwaukee Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo and Toledo Zoo. The Detroit Zoo coordinated the multi-zoo effort to manage the captive rearing effort. The AZA has 18 institutions participating in this effort. NVWF grants have covered most costs including incubators, brooders, and other equipment. The Detroit Zoo monitors the sites on Lake Huron.
At the Detroit Zoo, a program has been in place since 1987 to destroy eggs on zoo grounds and remove aggressive geese. At Belle Isle, since 2003, the Detroit Zoo has assumed control of the program. Eggs have been destroyed over the entire island and over 2500 geese have been relocated over the last three years.
In 2005, the Petersburg SGA was surveyed for density of nectar and lupine, the host plants. A vegetation management plan for reintroduction areas, including a burn area, was recommended. In 2006, a second survey for nectar and lupine plants was completed. The management plan was revised and a release area was determined. In 2007, a facility was constructed on zoo grounds, where butterfly propagation was begun. The release areas were finalized. In 2008, the release of butterflies at Petersburg SGA began. This will probably be a five year program. In 2009-2010, butterfly releases continued and Karner Blues have been observed both years.
The most recent project is restoring nesting grounds that have been lost to habitat encroachment along the Detroit River. Tern decoys and calls are being employed to attract these birds to a new nesting site. The Belle Isle Habitat Project is continuing.
Future projects may include Peregrine Falcons, Kirtland Warblers and Mitchell’s Satyr Butterfly.
What Can You Do.
Visitors are inspired by the idea that zoos are not just places to house animals but have a real presence in the world around us to “Save and Celebrate Wildlife”, So how can you know what your zoo is doing.
- press releases ( in paper and on zoo websites)
- newsletters (staff and/or volunteer)
- update meetings
Watch for opportunities to incorporate conversations into many different areas. People are interested. You can help them to know and understand the world around them. Choose projects that interest you. If not birds, what else.