The free bird show at Paignton Zoo is well into its summer residency. And this year it’s supporting a new conservation project for an elusive Vietnamese pheasant.
Winged Wonders, based in the Zoo’s Animal Encounters theatre, is run by the Devon Bird of Prey Centre and supported by Paignton Zoo volunteers. The show focusses on conservation and the sheer wonder of birds. It features an American kestrel, barn owls, a caracara, a merlin and Harris hawks; the biggest bird in the line-up is Magic the Siberian eagle owl. At different times, you might also see caracara and merlin.
Paignton Zoo Group Volunteers’ Manager Neil Thomas-Childs said: “We have 16 Zoo volunteers who help out with the show. As for the birds, old favourites like Magic, Dink and Sol have returned and new birds are flying, including Maverick and Mayhem, two Harris hawks who fly as a pair. It’s worth seeing the show a few times in the year as new birds come in and the Devon Bird of Prey Centre changes things around when they can.”
This is the third year the show has been put on by the Devon Birds of Prey Centre.
Around 28,000 visitors see the show each year. The free shows collect donations for conservation projects; last year over five thousand pounds was raised for bank cormorant conservation in South Africa. A similar sum was collected the year before.
This year the display is highlighting Paignton Zoo’s new project with Edward’s pheasants; details of the work will be given as part of each display. The Edwards’s pheasant is a shy bird with dark, shimmering blue feathers. The species is found only in the mountainous forests of central Vietnam, where it is threatened by intensive deforestation and hunting.
In fact, no Edwards’s pheasant has been sighted in the wild since the year 2000 and the species is now listed as Critically Endangered. It is listed as one of the “World’s 100 most threatened species”, reflecting how vital the work to save it really is.
Fortunately, there is a captive population of Edwards’s pheasants of about 1,000 individuals around the world. Paignton Zoo has two breeding pairs, one of which has successfully raised five chicks this year. For the past two years, zoo experts have been studying their behaviour with the aim of filling in large gaps in the understanding of this species, including breeding behaviour.
Paignton Zoo Curator of Birds Jo Gregson flew out to Vietnam in May to attend a workshop to discuss the possibility of reintroducing Edwards’s pheasant into the wild. The project will be run by a local conservation charity – the Zoo’s role is likely to be advising on the construction of the facility, developing veterinary and husbandry protocols and training local staff.
Money raised from the Winged Wonders show this year will help provide expertise and resources to the project in Vietnam, which aims to protect the forests from further destruction and build breeding aviaries and an education centre. It is currently the Year of the Rooster, which is considered very important in Vietnam. It is hoped that in 12 years’ time, when the next Year of the Rooster comes around, there will be a sustainable population of Edwards’s Pheasants in the wild.
The Winged Wonders displays run every day in Devon school holidays, Thursday to Tuesday the rest of the time (i.e. not Wednesdays). They last half an hour and start at 1pm, 2pm and 3:30pm. They finish on Sunday 3rd September 2017. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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