GETTING AQUAINTED WITH CLEOPATRA
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.
Black-crowned Night Herons are a smaller species (by heron standards anyway) that stand about two feet tall with a wingspan of about four. Like most birds they're deceptively light and weigh only a couple of pounds. They have a dark black cap (hence the name) and back, gray wings, and are white underneath. The thing that really jumps out at me is the Night Heron's striking red eyes. They also have a powerful pointed bill used to gather prey. Many herons spear with their bill, but Cleopatra and friends use theirs more as grabbing tools. What are they grabbing? Aquatic invertebrates, small fish, amphibians, snakes, eggs and rodents. In other words anything small that moves and some other things that don't. We feed Cleopatra carnivore meat, flamingo pellets, smelt, another fish called capelin, and a vitamin powder that many of our birds receive. As you might suspect, Night Herons are most active after dark. But don't worry, Cleopatra should be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you visit (she's very alert). She could be above the brown trout or on the penguin deck, but is usually perched atop the weasel exhibit.
Black-crowned Night Herons are relatively common and the most widespread of their family, being found pretty much everywhere but Antarctica and Australia. This means Cleopatra is a bird that one might see mingling with Magellanic Penguins in Patagonia or hunting for frogs in Millennium Park. I think the dual geographic ties make her presence here at the zoo even more interesting. Pop quiz: Can you think of another Living Shores resident who could be found in both Michigan and Patagonia? I'll give the answer next time.