A pigeon and his person

It’s neither routine nor highly unusual to see a bird strolling or strutting the walkway in the zoo’s Tropics aviary. It’s more unusual to see a bird and a zookeeper interacting on the walkway together, as I did yesterday. Ben had just reentered the walkway, apparently after restocking some bird-food dishes in the jungly undergrowth, and this Victoria crowned pigeon followed him out and appeared to be stalking him.

Ben and the bird

As Ben told a gathering crowd of intrigued guests, his stack of supplies is functioning partly as a shield here, because this particular pigeon likes to wing-slap people’s legs. (This hurts the wings at least as much as the legs, so keepers discourage the behavior for the birds’ own good.) All Victoria crowned pigeons look basically the same, with males slightly larger (at up to 30 inches long and 5 pounds), but Ben says he knows this one by its leg-banding and also its personality, which seems less docile than website descriptions of the breed suggest. This man-bird pair seemed to have a warily affectionate “frenemy” type of vibe going on, and the pigeon rushed at me once with wings outspread when I got too close with the camera.

pigeon encounterSometimes zookeepers bestow their own names on the animals they care for, but Ben said that wasn’t the case with this guy. Nonetheless, he described Mr. Victoria (as I guess I’m calling him now) as a good dad to the two-month-old hatchling hidden somewhere in the aviary trees. That’s typical of this species, in which the dads choose the nesting site and do half-time duty incubating the single egg laid by their mate. Moms and dads also take turns feeding the hatchling “crop milk,” as explained by the Toronto Zoo, which had the most thorough and interesting pigeon page I could find.

Victoria crowned pigeon strutting

pigeon feet

As Ben pointed out, Victoria crowneds are the world’s largest living pigeon and a relative of the dodo bird — a 40-pounder in its heyday. Arguably the zoo’s most visually striking bird, these vividly blue creatures are native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, where they’re a threatened species hunted for their feathers and their meat. They don’t look much like Queen Victoria to me, even with that fancy headgear, but they’re a lot of fun to watch, as long as you protect your shins.

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Maternal sloth

There’s always something new at the zoo to keep volunteers invigorated, and last week it was the sloth baby — only the second born here, on Feb. 3. Thursday was mom’s first day back on exhibit with baby. The sloth normally lives at the “Creatures Beneath the Canopy” end of the Tropics trail with our other Central and South American animals, but the nearby large windows and glass doors make it too cold for sloths in winter — their body temperature changes with their environment, reptile-like, and they’re not muscular enough to warm themselves by shivering. This year, instead of going off exhibit entirely, the sloth took up residence with chinchillas at the end of the old Nocturnal Trail in Tropics. All you can see of the baby in this picture are its two left legs; it sleeps on its mom’s belly, and sloths sleep 15 hours a day even when they’re not new moms, and they’re most active at night. But this is the best look and only decent picture of a sloth I’ve ever gotten, since they’re usually tucked among foliage with their faces hidden.

two-toed sloth

Two-toed sloths are pregnant for about five months. Delivery typically takes less than an hour and, like everything else in a sloth’s life except defecating, happens while mom is hanging upside down in a tree. Two-toed sloths have two toes — or as you can see here, claws ideal for hooking onto trees — on each front foot and three on each hindfoot.  The fascinating facts about them go on and on; many appear on the excellent website for the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. (Three-toed sloths have tails and extra vertebrae, so they’re a whole other story.) We have another pregnant sloth at the zoo, so in time, this baby will not only emerge into full view but should also gain a playmate. I’m not sure sloths actually play, even when they’re little, but time will tell.