In praise of ostentation!

There is one species strutting around the Reid Park Zoo, unconcerned about human visitors, and VERY impressed with their own beauty and perfection. They change their look and behavior with the seasons (breeding season, that is) and choose exactly when and where they’d like to visit you.

They can often be seen pilfering food from their animal companions in the Zoo, and seem very interested in also attracting their attention. That’s right – these ladies and gentlemen, all 17 of them, are “free range,” and no, we’re not talking about the ducks that waddle around at will or the very plump squirrels.

They are the Reid Park Zoo’s ostentation of Indian Peafowl, and yes, that’s what a group of peacocks and peahens is officially called! These 12 males and 5 females are officially part of the RPZ’s collection, which means that their health is checked annually. But they are allowed to roam around, so you never know where you might see one – on the path in front of you, squawking loudly from a tree in the Giraffe habitat, showing off for the Grevy’s Zebras, relaxing with the South African Leopard Tortoises, posing next to a White Rhino, or anywhere else they decide to go.
That’s right – anywhere. These birds are fully flighted, so they could choose to fly off from the Zoo whenever they wanted – but they know a good environment when they have one. For them, The Reid Park Zoo grounds constitute a desirable home where they can find safety, ample food and water, shelter, and yes, the admiration of many humans. Not to mention health care if they need it. Though they are unconcerned about the presence of humans in their midst, they will obligingly (if slowly) stroll out of the way if they’re blocking your path. They also seem to enjoy allowing you to photograph them.

Indian Peafowl are members of the Pheasant family. Of course, peacocks are famous for their gorgeous plumage, and no two individuals have exactly the same color patterns. They spend breeding season displaying their beautiful tail feathers in a huge fan (six or seven feet wide) in hopes of attracting a mate. After the season ends, though, they drop all these feathers and grow new ones the next year. They have unmistakable, really loud voices, usually calling in the mornings and evenings, but if it’s breeding season, all day. At night they sleep in a group in a safe, tall tree or two. In their native  habitats, India and Sri Lanka, they spend their days foraging on the ground each day for grain, insects, and even small reptiles – but at the Zoo, the smorgasbord is endless – they can forage if they choose to, but  they can much more easily find a wide variety of food just for the taking.  

Luckily for us, they live about 15-20 years, so those of us who get a special kick out of seeing these haughty creatures walking or displaying in front of us can count on this ostentatious bonus experience every time we visit The Reid Park Zoo!

What’s that Screamer?

What has a chicken-looking beak, long legs with big toes, and screams like a two year old?  A Screamer of course! You’d never guess it by looking at them but these large birds are related to ducks and geese and live near tropical and sub-tropical wetlands in South America. 

Hunters beware!  The loud cries of the Screamer can be heard for miles around and help guard their habitat from approaching danger.  Many other species, such as the Blue Throated Macaw benefit from these bird watchdogs.  However, the Screamers themselves do not often need to worry about hunters.  Their skin contains tiny air sacs making their spongy meat not something someone would want to serve for a meal!  Their skeleton’s pneumatic (air filled) bones extend even to the outermost toe bones. 

Prepare to be screamed at!

There are three species of Screamers, all found in South America. 

  • The Horned Screamer has a calcified spike on its forehead and looks like a bird unicorn.  This bird, called Arauco in Spanish, is the official bird of the Department of Arauca and the Municipality of Arauca in Columbia. Listen to the Horned Screamer call.  
  • The Black Necked Screamer, or Northern Screamer, has a declining population and is classified as near threatened due to habitat loss.  Listen to the Northern Screamer call. 
  • The Southern Crested Screamer of east central South America is the species at Reid Park Zoo.  Listen to the Crested Screamer call.

More interesting than the average bird, literally!

  • Habitat loss is not the only threat to this species.  Some farmers will take them and use them to guard chickens with their danger scream.
  • They make a crackling sound when they fly due to the air sacs under their skin and around their bones.  
  • They have sharp bone spurs on their wings-and they know how to use them!!!  Although they are even tempered birds they will use these spurs to defend themselves and their territory.
  • The horn on the horned screamer is made of cartilage, easily breaks and grows back to about six inches in length.
  • Their long toes are used to grab vegetation while wading in the water. Sometimes they’ll even be seen swimming.  And this time of year, you have a good chance of seeing them swim at the Reid Park Zoo!

Screams sometimes translate as “Get away! That’s MY mate!”

Screamers are monogamous and mate for life.  Together they build a well hidden nest on land close to the water.  They share the duties of incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.  A clutch is typically 3-5 large eggs, hatching in about 45 days.  Although screamers are herbivores, while feeding the young they may feed on invertebrates and other small animals. The chicks are able to swim immediately and fledge in about 8-10 weeks.

Check them out

We have two Southern Crested Screamers at Reid Park Zoo.  Brothers Lionel and Echo were both hatched in Birmingham, Alabama from different clutches.  Lionel was hatched October 15, 2012, and now weighs almost 7 1/2 pounds.  Echo was hatched on June 11, 2017 and now weighs almost 8 pounds. Echo came to Reid Park Zoo on October 7, 2019. Lionel came to Reid Park Zoo from Atlanta on November 11, 2020.   

The next time you’re at the Reid Park Zoo, follow the path into South America.  There you’ll find two large Crested Screamers sharing their space with the capybaras.  Although they can be loud as their name suggests, these birds spend many hours enjoying their habitat.  Check out and enjoy the crested screamer at The Reid Park Zoo, and not too soon in the future, you’ll be able to  compare these fascinating creatures to many exciting new bird species in the Reid Park Zoo expansion!

Are you looking for a place where you can feel peace and serenity? How about a cool, shady oasis where you can see amazing animals by your feet, in the air, and on tree branches? You can find all this in the Reid Park Zoo’s Flight Connection Aviary.   Sitting on a bench, watching the colorful birds flit about is interesting, relaxing and fun. Learning about them makes the experience even more enjoyable. So, here are just a few of the beautiful creatures in this aviary. Since words alone can’t do them justice, be sure to click on the links to see their images.

Crested Partridge

Watch your feet! This charming bird may scurry in front of you as you walk the aviary paths. The Crested Partridge is a game bird in the pheasant family, about 10 inches long with a roundish shape and a short tail. The males have a glossy black body with a red crest on the forehead. Females are a lovely moss green with brown wings but no crest. Both birds have red patches around the eyes and distinctive red legs and feet. These ground dwellers from the tropical forests in southeast Asia prefer to walk or run. They spend their days foraging for food and may perch on low-hanging branches at night.  

The Crested Partridge mates for life. Their dome-shaped ground nest is covered with twigs and leaves, with the female completely hidden inside for about 18 days while incubating her 6-8 eggs. The Crested Partridge is usually seen in a covey of several birds, which can get a little noisy. They have two calls-a quiet one to communicate with each other and a loud warning sound. Watching these delightful creatures interact with each other is really entertaining. Remember – their red legs make them easy to spot and identify.

Bearded Barbet

Another eye-catching bird in the Flight Connection is the red, black and white Bearded Barbet. It is the largest of the barbet species (10 inch), a round bird with a short neck, large head, and short-ish tail. The strong, short legs have two toes facing frontward and two toes facing backwards, helping the barbet cling to the sides of trees. Males and females look alike. Barbets are closely related to toucans. The tooth-edged bills of toucans are similar to the Bearded Barbet’s large, thick yellow bill. A clump of bristles (exposed feather shafts) at the base of the bill gives this species its name. The saw-like edges make cutting off fruit stems an easy task. The bill is also useful in digging nesting holes in rotten trees. The Bearded Barbet is common in West Africa, where they live in wooded areas and are primarily fruit eaters – with figs a favorite. They are important seed dispersers, as their undigested seeds are spread about the land. Like a distant cousin, the woodpecker, these birds lay eggs in a nest built in the cavity of a tree. The two eggs are incubated for about 14 days with both parents caring for them. The Bearded Barbet’s call is an unmistakable SCRAWK!, often slowly repeated. The next time you’re at Reid Park Zoo, be sure to visit the Flight Connection Aviary with your ears open! You’re sure to spy a Bearded Barbet.

Violet Turaco

This bird just might take your breath away! The brightly-colored Violet Turaco is an African species and a fruit eater. It is large, about 18 inches long. Named for its brilliant glossy violet color, its forehead is yellow with a bright red bill and eye ring.  Social birds, they live in large flocks in the forests of western Africa. Because they live in dense forests, the Violet Turaco doesn’t need to be a great flyer. Using their long tails for balance, they bounce from branch to branch in the treetops, foraging for food. During courtship, the male shows off his brilliant colors by fluttering his wings to attract a mate. A flat platform nest built with twigs and sticks will be assembled high up in a tree. Male and female take turns sitting on the two or three eggs and will also share in feeding the young. The Violet Turaco has a loud COOROO call. Keep an eye out for these magnificent birds and enjoy!

White Headed Buffalo Weaver

Hey! Check out my nest! This could be a male weaver calling out to a prospective mate. He builds a fabulous nest and the females then choose a partner based on his construction skills. What a way to impress your mate!   

The White Headed Buffalo Weaver is common throughout the savannas and dry brush in eastern Africa, eating seeds, small insects and small fruit. The word buffalo comes from its habit of following the African buffalo for insects that hitch a ride on their skin. This is a smallish bird of about 7 inches in length. They are mostly white with black wings and tail and an orange rump.  It is difficult to tell the males from the females as their appearance and size is similar.  

The White Headed Buffalo Weavers are related to finches and are usually seen in small flocks. They lay 3-5 eggs in their elaborate nests and incubate them for 14 days. Come and see if you can find these birds in the aviary. They are bold little birds and just may start looking for insects around your feet! This is only a small sampling of the birds you’ll see at Reid Park Zoo. The South America Loop also has its own aviary, with many stunning species. But there will be more, soon. The Reid Park Zoo’s Pathway to Asia expansion will include the “Wings of Wonder” aviary, where you’ll be able to find even more colorful, sociable, and beautiful birds. The aviaries are cool in the summer and a great place to get out of our summer heat. Come in, turn off your phone, and h enjoy the quiet.