I stayed at the Reid Park Zoo right up until its closing last Sunday, February 14, and I was glad I did. It seems that some of the animals get fed when the human crowds thin out. Had I been more observant I would have noticed that there was a growing sense of anticipation among the big birds that share quarters with the white rhinos.
The marabou stork was getting increasingly restless and hanging out closer to the zookeeper entrance to the rhino paddock. It soon became clear why it seemed to have a strategy. The marabou was not the only bird there to get a handout. Amazingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, a whole flock of wild, native black-crowned night-herons swooped in to get a free meal as well! A great egret even joined in the fracas.
It was quite a free-for-all. Here I had thought that birds were such shy creatures. Well, ok, there was that encounter with a great blue heron last summer at the Campus Pond at UMass, but I thought that might be the exception to the rule.
Sure these birds look all elegant and everything….until they are scarfing down a piece of meat bigger than their head. (Isn’t there a rule against that? Maybe it only applies to people).
So persistent are the night-herons that they follow keepers with food. After I exited the zoo, walking around the back to get to the bus stop, what should I see but a pair of night-herons looming on the roof of one of the buildings, patiently waiting for a keeper in a golf cart to come by with more fish.
The keeper informed me that one of the birds has a split beak, and that they do hand feed it because it would not be able to survive otherwise. That did not keep the bird’s rival from trying to steal a bite, though. The competition from wild birds is quite aggravating to the keepers, but as the rhino keeper said, “What can you do?”