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David Blaszkiewicz

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Before turning to zookeeping, most of David's background involved field research with birds.   As a zookeeper at John Ball Zoo, he spends most of his time in the Van Andel Living Shores and at the new zoo Commissary preparing animal diets.  His preferred group of animals to work with are birds, particularly gulls, penguins and songbirds.  

Outside of the Zoo and animal world, he enjoys cooking, gardening and music.  

Posts by David Blaszkiewicz

John Ball Zoo's Wild Bird Life

Well, we're just entering the breeding and migration seasons for a lot of Michigan's wild bird species.  And with our varied habitat, John Ball Zoo is something of a wild oasis in the heart of Grand Rapids.  In today's blog, I'm going to introduce you to some of the species that, with a little extra effort, you might see and/or hear when you visit. 


Last October Zookeeper David Blaszkiewicz posted a blog about a start-up garden here at the Zoo.  The plan was to grow fresh produce that is not normally included in our animal diets, but items that would make for a great special treat (enrichment) for the animals.  The Zoo’s enrichment garden is now in its third year and although it provides some local, seasonal produce, it’s not nearly enough for all the animals – all summer long.     Last year David’s blog ran too late to ask you to consider donating some of your excess homegrown produce.  This year, however, we’re hoping the timing is right and you would be willing to send a share of your garden bounty our way!   As David puts it, “If you are up to your armpits in green beans, don’t forget your furry, feathered and scaly friends at the John Ball Zoo.”   (no pesticides, please) 


Last summer, keeper Dan and I hatched the idea of starting an enrichment garden for John Ball Zoo animals.   Novel food items (treats) are one facet of enrichment, defined as items and activities designed to stimulate the animals brains' and keep them engaged and active.  




David's blog is accompanied by a video blog.  Find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tgkhm8LAcuY



John Ball Zoo’s penguin species is the Magellanic or Spheniscus magellanicus.  They are native to Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands in the southern hemisphere.   As wild birds they would begin breeding about September, but we keep our flock on a light cycle that mimics the northern hemisphere (particularly Grand Rapids) so ours begin breeding in March.  Females almost always lay 2 eggs,



I apologize for falling behind on my blogging,  but today I'm back to tell you about another of the conservation projects John Ball Zoo supports right here in our own backyard.  That project is Salmon in the Schools, and in conjunction with John Ball Zoo School,  we completed our ninth year last Thursday!  But before I go into the program, a little background.


Piping Plovers are shorebirds similar to (but much smaller) than the more familiar Killdeer, and the Great Lakes population is highly endangered.  Only about sixty breeding pairs exist, and they are limited to the Lake Michigan and Huron beaches of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ontario.  Much of their decline  is due to habitat loss. Since Plovers and humans are both attracted to the same beaches, suitable breeding sites are becoming increasingly rare.  Predation by both wild and domestic animals is also a big problem, and the population is so fragile that even accidents or weather events can cause significant damage.


Today I'm going to help you get acquainted with Cleopatra, JBZ's Black-crowned Night Heron.  She's one of our newest residents, having arrived over the winter from the St. Louis Zoo.  Like all new arrivals she had to spend a stint quarantined in our animal hospital to be sure she didn't have any parasites or diseases that might spread, but then it was off to the Living Shores for exhibit.  She was pretty skittish at first but is fitting in very nicely.  I was a bit worried beforehand that she might not behave herself but she's been a model citizen.



For my first blog I'm going to focus on some zoo residents (my favorites) who you've probably all seen but maybe haven't given much thought to.  Namely, the Kelp Gulls.  Kelp Gulls are widespread on islands and rocky coastlines of the Southern Hemisphere, but one was recently spotted as far north as Florida.  I know this because the researcher who found it contacted us to make sure it wasn't one of ours.  "Why us?" you ask.  Because John Ball Zoo houses the last three Kelp Gulls in North American zoos.  They're quite common in the wild, so the American Zoo and Aquarium Association is phasing them out and once ours are gone you'll have to catch a plane or boat to see one.