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|For The World's Waterfowl AAZK Report|
|For The World's Waterfowl AAZK Report|
The following article was written by a 2010 graduate of the Sylvan Heights Avian Husbandry & Management Program. She then submitted her article to the monthly Journal of the American Association of Zoo Keepers as a report for the grant she received to attend the program.
For The World’s Waterfowl
AAZK Professional Development Grant Report on
Sylvan Heights Avian Husbandry & Management Program
Amy Slagoski, Senior Biologist
The Florida Aquarium
“Whatever we do, things are going to get worse. The best we can hope for is that they will get worse less quickly than they would otherwise have done. Of course, there are lots of things we can to do help…” David Attenborough’s recent remarks regarding the state of our environment imply that we can make a difference by the work we do (Guardian, 2010). I recently completed a two week internship in June at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Breeding Center (SHWBC), made possible by the AAZK Professional Development Grant and The Florida Aquarium. Led by Mike Lubbock, the Avian Husbandry and Management Program at SHWBC is designed to bolster aviculture practices pertaining to waterfowl in hopes of creating a collaborative conservation effort.
Staff at the breeding center have dedicated their lives to improving waterfowl aviculture. Mike Lubbock is the Executive Director of Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park and Eco-Center and Founder of Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Breeding Center. Nick Hill is the Curator of Aviculture at the breeding center. Lubbock established the breeding center in Scotland Neck, NC in 1989 with over 20 years of prior aviculture experience. He developed a passion for waterfowl at the Wildfowl Trust in Slimbridge, England working his way up from a volunteer to director. He has designed and developed successful waterfowl propagation centers and accomplished many first breedings. His pioneering efforts for collecting fertile eggs in the field are renowned. This has enabled wild populations to remain stable while introducing new bloodlines into captive populations for management of rare species, such as the Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa), Pygmy Goose (Nettapus species), Australian Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis), Musk Duck (Biziura lobata), and Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) (Fig. 9, Fig. 10). Mike and his wife Ali have received the prestigious Jean DeLacour Avicultural Award and have been inducted into the International Wild Waterfowl Association Hall of Fame (Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park (SHWP), 2010).
Nick Hill has decades of experience in breeding and rearing birds, and worked as the Assistant Curator at Birdland Zoo Gardens, UK prior to Sylvan Heights. He has received the Southwick Memorial Award from the International Wild Waterfowl Association and first breeding awards for the Black Browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) and Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) (SHWP, 2010). Hill does consulting for animal-related productions, and has trained Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) for the BBC documentary “Flight of the Snow Geese” and King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) for Universal Studio’s “Batman Returns.” In addition, Hill has led expeditions to the Falkland Islands to collect penguin, seabird, and waterfowl eggs for captive research projects.
The Lubbock home is open to volunteers and interns interested in sharing their passion in Scotland Neck, NC. Internship programs vary in length from one week to three months with a focus on the following Anseriformes husbandry techniques: nutritional requirements, nesting habitat, egg handling and storage, incubation and hatching, rearing techniques, sexing, veterinary and aviary requirements. There are 170 species of waterfowl at the breeding center, 2500 birds, and approximately 1000 hatchlings reared each year; there are always eggs in the incubator and ducklings in the hatchery (SHWP, 2010). The hands-on husbandry courses are offered during the busiest time of the year for breeding, from April to July. The two week course is just long enough to gain insight into the daily operations of a breeding center. All staff, volunteers, and interns take part in feeding the breeding pens, cleaning and feeding the little duckery, big duckery, and broody hens. In between the daily routines, qualified staff instruct on the important details of breeding, incubating, and rearing waterfowl.
A variety of nest boxes are used extensively at SHWBC to provide ideal nesting opportunities (Fig. 1, Fig. 2). Breeding pens vary in design, specifically for one pair or for several waterfowl pairs depending on what works best for the particular species. Bonded pairs are preferred for breeding success, and are determined in the off season by observations of the birds’ behavior in a group setting. Pairs are placed in breeding pens during their natural breeding season. Staff closely monitors the breeding pens, keeping notes on which nests are active.
Parent incubation is preferred, but if the birds are not good incubators and/or the weather conditions are not ideal (too humid or too wet), the eggs are pulled. Broody hens are then used to sit on the eggs for up to 18 days with daily monitoring of the eggs while the hens are off the nest to eat (Fig. 3, Fig. 4). Different sized hens are used for different sized eggs but if the eggs are too large for the broody to turn, staff will assist in turning while the hen is off the nest. The best hens are selected for the job from an offsite hen house and are considered the heart of the breeding operation. The hen house is offsite for optimal biosecurity.
For the last stage of development, the eggs are placed in an artificial incubator. The humidity in the whole room is controlled (rather than just the humidity in the incubator) for best results. Eggs are candled daily to monitor their progress. When the chicks start to pip into air space, the eggs are placed in a hatcher. Once the chick breaks open the shell, they are kept in a heater/blower or “fluffer upper” unit until they are dry and warm.
From here, the chicks are moved to the little duckery, into a dry brooder with a heat lamp and source of trickling water to ensure a continuous fresh supply (Fig. 5, Fig. 6). Grated hard-boiled egg is sprinkled over the 19% protein crumble diet for the first few days to attract the chicks to the feeding dish. Diced greens are added to the diets of goslings and sea duck starter is added to the diets of fish eating birds. Birds are kept together according to age and size. It is important not to overcrowd, to have good air circulation, and a constant supply of clean water for the health of the birds. About a week later, the dry brooder is transformed into a wet brooder with a gradual sloping floor. The depth of the water is controlled by the length of a standpipe. Birds are sexed, pinioned (if need be), and recorded at this age. Goslings are taken outside for a few hours a day depending on the heat. Outside covered enclosures are portable so grazing areas can be rotated daily for fresh grass to prevent gut parasites (Fig. 7).
About the third week, the chicks graduate to the large duckery (Fig. 8). These runs provide more room and hold more water, with access to a shaded pool outside through a sliding door. Space heaters and heat lamps or fans are used depending on the weather. The crumble diet is switched to a 16% protein and the birds are slowly introduced to pellet. If there is too much protein in the diet and the chick grows too fast, growth deformities referred to as angel wing and bandy legs can develop. The chicks are banded and stay in the big duckery until they are well-feathered. From here they are moved into adolescent pens with large ponds until they are transferred to another facility or moved into the adult collection at Sylvan Heights. What works best for breeding and rearing is based on the staff’s impressive experience and insight.
To learn waterfowl aviculture practices first-hand from the Lubbock’s and Hill is priceless. Not only do you gain an understanding of what goes into a breeding operation; you also gain an appreciation for the efforts of waterfowl conservation. The purpose of the breeding center is to provide zoos, aquariums, and private collectors with waterfowl in hopes of creating a collaborative effort of sustainability. The Lubbock’s have done research with the International Wild Waterfowl Association to gather information on the current captive populations of waterfowl through surveys (SHWP, 2010). Unfortunately, they have discovered that birds once numerous in collections are declining, leaving uncertainty to sustainable captive populations. Some of these species are on the verge of extinction in the wild, despite the creation of managed preserves. Sylvan Heights keeps constant watch on the status of threatened waterfowl and believes that captive breeding is the best plan in safe guarding species such as the White-winged Wood Duck (Cairina scutulata), Meller’s Duck (Anas melleri), Hawaiian Duck (Anas wyvilliana), Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides), and the Madagascar Teal (Anas bernieri) (SHWP, 2010) (Fig. 11). In addition to these fragile species, there are others that are more numerous in the wild, but a lack of interest in captive populations and breeding creates problems for supporting genetic diversity. Due to rapid habitat destruction, waterfowl species are increasingly becoming threatened. By focusing on captive breeding, Sylvan Heights has also been successful with increasing captive populations of the Cape Teal (Anas capensis), East Indian Gray Teal (Anas gracilis gibberifrons), Southern Pochard (Netta erythrophthalma) and numerous others. Currently, the Lubbock’s and staff are working on the following conservation projects at SHWBC: Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) Recovery Project, Orinoco Goose (Neochen jubatus) Nestbox Project, and the Hawaiian Duck Breeding Program (SHWP, 2010).
Mike Lubbock has a strong belief that public and private groups must work together to conserve waterfowl. In 2007, he presented a paper at the IV International Symposium on Breeding Birds in Captivity in Toronto titled The State of Captive Watefowl (SHWP, 2010). This paper is a must read to gain a better understanding on what Lubbock feels is needed to protect the future of the world’s waterfowl populations. Sylvan Heights has collaborated with several agencies to accomplish this goal: The National Zoo Conservation and Research Center and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on duck sperm freezing and waterfowl DNA analysis, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine on aviculture and avian disease, Florida State University on blood sexing and waterfowl lineages with Dr. Siwo, Fort Worth Zoo on Masked Duck and West Indian Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arborea) population analysis, Hope Zoo on a stiff-tailed duck breeding program, University of North Carolina on Duck Hepatitis B Virus with Dr. Newbold, and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service on American Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) sensitivities to toxins in the Roanoke River (SHWP, 2010).
All of the Lubbock’s efforts towards waterfowl breeding, conservation, and education have made them very popular. Ali stays extremely busy coordinating tours, volunteers, interns, shipments, acquisitions, and park operations. At the end of the day, she cooks a delicious meal for a table full of guests while interns get the opportunity to pick Mike’s brain regarding the day’s work and lessons he wrote in the handy Avian Husbandry & Management Manual. There is no other place in the world as unique; where you are so immersed in waterfowl that whatever your focus, the learning opportunities are endless. The only dilemma I had regarding the two week internship was that I wished I could have stayed longer. Without the efforts of Mike and Ali, the current status of waterfowl populations would definitely be worsening more quickly than we could hope for otherwise. Their work is admirable, and an example that there are lots of things we can do to help.
Many thanks to the AAZK Grant Committee and The Florida Aquarium for financial support. Special thanks to Ali and Mike Lubbock and Nick Hill for their hospitality, compassion for waterfowl conservation, and dedication to aviculture education. Thanks to Paul Anderson for grant research and editing support. Thanks to Jenn Moffatt for editing and professional development support. Thank you to Ryan Czaja and the great staff at The Florida Aquarium for coverage while I was in North Carolina.
Guardian, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk.
Lubbock, M.R. 2005. Avian Husbandry & Management Program. Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center, Scotland Neck, North Carolina, U.S.A.Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, 2010. http://shwpark.com.