Tails From The Zoo

A Sea Eagle Update May 7, 2010

Filed under: Birds,Exhibits,Teacher's Resources,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 11:33 pm
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Now that the eagles have landed in their new home at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, I thought it would be good to update our Steller’s sea eagle fact sheet. So here you go!


At the Assiniboine Park Zoo:

  • The relocation of our sea eagles places them into the Asian area of the Assiniboine Park Zoo, across the path from our Amur tigers.


  • Our male came to us in 2006 from the Lieberec Zoo in the Czech Republic. He was born in 2005.


  • Our female came to us in 2005 from the Tallinn Zoo in Estonia. She was born in 2003.


Fast Facts:

  • Scientific name means “Eagle of the open seas”
  • The Steller’s sea eagle has been designated a national treasure in Russia. They are also honoured in Japan where they are known as “O-Washi”.
  • Persecuted by hunters and poachers for stealing trapped animals.
  • They are diurnal (active during the day)
  • Adult eagles have about 7000 feathers.
  • They are named after Georg Steller (1709-1746), a German biologist. He also lent his name to the Steller’s jay, Steller’s sea lion (endangered), Steller’s eider (a type of duck – vulnerable), and the Steller’s sea cow (extinct).


Status in the Wild: Vulnerable

  • Wild population estimated at 5000 and dropping according to the IUCN.
  • The wild population is declining due to habitat loss, water pollution (from DDT/PCB’s), over-fishing (loss of prey), lead shot hunting (lead poisoning from scavenging) and other factors.


Sea Eagles:

  • Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) are one of eight species of sea eagle
  • The Steller’s sea eagle is also known as the Pacific eagle and the white-shouldered eagle.
  • The Steller’s sea eagle is considered the most powerful and aggressive of its cousins, the bald eagle and the white-tailed sea eagle
  • This group frequent coasts, lakes and rivers
  • This species is dark brown but dramatically coloured when mature with a white tail, white shoulders, white rump, and white thighs

Stella and Stanley inspect one of their new nest boxes. Photo by Darlene Stack, Assiniboine Park Zoo

Height, Weight, Length:

  • Males: weigh up to 6kg
  • Females: weigh up to 9kg
  • Females average 2 to 4kg larger than males
  • Steller’s sea eagles are amongst the largest and heaviest eagles in the world. They are similar in size to the Philippine eagle and the harpy eagle from South America.

  • Adult Steller’s have an average wingspan of 2.3 metres (7.5 ft)
  • Females have a larger wingspan than males
  • Sea eagles stand 85 to 94cm high


  • Russia: Kamchatka / Amur river, Northern Korea, China and Japan
  • Breeds in Russia and over winters in Japan


  • 4 to 5 years for sexual maturity
  • 6 to 8 years for adult plumage

Sea Eagle Diet:

  • 80% fish (e.g. cod), 10% birds (ducks, gulls), 5% mammals, and 5% other (crabs, shellfish, squid, carrion)
  • Like other eagles, Steller’s also steal food from other birds.
  • Four Steller’s sea eagle hunting techniques have been recorded:

1. Diving off a perch for food

2. Flying over the water and picking up food

3. Wading in shallow water for food

4. Stealing food from other birds, a practice known as “kleptoparasitism”



  • IUCN Redlist, Arkive, Birdlife International, San Diego Zoo, National Geographic Society, Assiniboine Park Zoo Education Library
  • Revised May 3, 2010

Compiled by Scott Gray, Education Director


Kookaburras – The Bushman’s Clock April 18, 2010

Filed under: Birds,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 6:24 am
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Chris Reid and I just finished talking about the kookaburra on Zoo Knew (Sundays at 7:15 am on CJOB 68) . These birds can be seen in the Tropical House at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Kookaburra (aka: Laughing kookaburra): Is sometimes called the Bushman’s Clock because of its habit of calling in the morning and evening. Their call sounds like loud, raucous laughter.


Laughing Kookaburra

The (laughing) kookaburra

Food: The kookaburra is a carnivorous bird and is known as a stand and wait hunter.

  • The kookaburra eats both invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and vertebrates (birds, rodents, lizards, amphibians and snakes)
  • Small prey is crushed while larger prey is killed by bashing it against at branch or by dropping from a height.


Size: Length: 45 cm  (18 in),  Weight: 0.5 kg  (1.1 lbs)

  • The kookaburra is gray-brown above and gray-white on the head and underparts. It has a dark eye stripe and a barred tail. It has a long, stout (broad), dagger-like bill. It has a large head, a stubby tail and short legs.


Habitat: The kookaburra lives away from water in woodland and scrub. It is a tree (or wood) kingfisher,  which is the most numerous of the three families of birds in the kingfisher group. The other two families are the river kingfishers and the lake kingfishers.

Distribution: South and East Australia. Introduced to Tasmania and other islands.


Find out more about the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s kookaburras here: http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/Laughing%20Kookaburra.pdf


Compiled by Scott Gray, Zoo Education Director

References: Birds of the World (Paragon Publishing, 2005), the National Zoo, http://www.avianweb.com.


Markhor – Our Wild Goats March 21, 2010

Filed under: New Animals/Births,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:46 pm
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The Assiniboine Park Zoo introduced a new young breeding male to its herd of female markhor. Here is some information to introduce you to these wonderfully active and agile wild goats with huge spiraling horns.

  • The markhor (as well as the zoo’s Alpine ibex) is a member of the goat family, indigenous to Central Asia. There are three subspecies, of which the Assiniboine Park Zoo exhibits Capra falconeri heptneri

IUCN Status: Endangered

  • Population: 2,500 worldwide with no sub-population more than 250
  • The reasons for the markhor’s decline include intensive hunting (for trophies, meat and the Asian medicine market), disturbance and loss of habitat due to expanded human settlement, and competition from domestic livestock.


  • The range of the markhor has historically extended through the mountainous regions from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India (Kashmir)

Biology and Ecology

Head-Body Length: 140 – 180 cm

Weight: Females weigh 30 – 40 kg+ (70 – 90 lb+). Males weigh 80 – 110 kg (180 – 240 lb)


  • The markhor lives on dry mountain cliff-sides at altitudes ranging from 700 m (2300′) from November to May up to 4000 m (13,000′) in the summer.
  • It avoids deep snow.
  • The markhor occupies arid cliff-side habitats in sparsely wooded mountainous regions at altitudes ranging from 700 m (2300′) from November to May up to 4000 m (13,000′) in the summer.

Reproduction and Lifespan:

  • Mating occurs during winter
  • Births occur from late April to early June
  • Birth Rate: one or two
  • They live to at least 13 years

Food in the Wild:

  • The markhor is a grazer in the spring and summer where it mainly grazes on tussocks of grass. It turns to browsing when the grasses have dried up, eating leaves and twigs.

Fun Facts

  • The markhor is a browser and will climb trees in search of nutritious leaves, even as high as 4 – 6 m (15 – 20′) above the ground.
  • Markhor horns are in demand for traditional Asian medicine. They are also one of the most desired of all hunting trophies due to length, which can exceed 1.5 m (60″).
  • The name markhor is derived from the Persian mar, a snake, and khor, eating. This name is puzzling, since the markhor is a vegetarian, although it has been known to kill snakes.

Zoo Pictures: Markhor



Compiled by Scott Gray


European Bison March 14, 2010

Filed under: Extinction,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 7:10 am
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The European bison, also known as wisent, is the cousin of the North American bison. Wisent are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, but their status was much worse nearly a century ago. Due to a combination of habitat loss, war and poaching, the wisent was declared extinct in the wild after the last one was shot in 1921. Thankfully, 56 wisent survived in zoos scattered around Europe and a joint breeding program was quickly set up to save the species. It took nearly thirty years but the European bison began to be reintroduced throughout the forests of Belarus, Poland, Russia, Lithuania and the Ukraine in the early 1950’s.

The current wild wisent population is less than 2,500 as their success is still hampered by a lack of habitat but nearly 1,400 live in 250 zoos and game preserves around the world. We currently have 1.6 (one male, six female) European bison at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.


Are bison and buffalo the same thing?

No. Bison belong to the family Bovidae, which include wild and domestic cattle as well as buffalo, but there are a number of significant differences between the two.


  • Live in North America and Europe
  • Have long shaggy hair
  • Have large shoulders and pronounced humps
  • Have short horns


  • Live in Africa (cape buffalo) and Asia (water buffalo)
  • Have short thin hair
  • Have smaller shoulders and no humps
  • Have long horns


Life Span: up to 27 years

Habitat: Mixed and deciduous forests, meadows

Height (at the shoulders): 1.8 – 2 metres

Weight: 800- 1000 kg

Body Length: 2.9 metres

Tail Length: 80 cm


Thanks to everyone that listens to Zoo Knew every Sunday morning at 7:15 on CJOB68, where we talked about bison this morning. I hope you’ll take a chance to visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo today or in the near future to view both our European and our North American bison herds. If you’re not in Winnipeg, take a visit to your nearest zoo to find out about all of the amazing animals that live there. Take part in a guided tour or read some of the interpretive signs and find out what your local zoo is doing to save and preserve endangered species. I think you’ll be surprised how much work zoos do! Please feel free to send me your comments or links to success stories.


Cougars at Assiniboine Park Zoo February 22, 2010

Filed under: Wild Cats,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:05 am

Chris Reid and I talked yesterday (at 7:15 am on CJOB 68’s Weekend Wake-Up Show) about cougars on Zoo Knew. With Ayla the cougar‘s recent passing, we felt it was appropriate to highlight these wonderful animals. You can still see Ayla’s partner Max in his enclosure, located in the North American animal area. The Assiniboine Park Zoo is open all winter from 10 am to 4 pm.


Here are a few fun fast facts that we didn’t have a chance to include in our chat:

  • Cougars are the second largest cat in the Americas. The jaguar is the largest.
  • Cougars are the largest of the three cats that live in Canada (including the lynx and the bobcat).
  • Cougars have the largest range of all terrestrial mammals in the western hemisphere


A Cat of Many Names:

The cougar’s scientific name, Puma concolor, literally means cat of one colour. Regionally though, it is known by many common names, depending on local culture and legend.

  • The Maliseet of New Brunswick call the cougar “pi-twal,” meaning “the long-tailed one.”
  • The English name “cougar” and the French “couguar,” now widely used in Canada, were adapted from the Brazilian native name “cuguacuarana.”
  • The name “mountain lion” is extensively used in the western United States.
  • “Puma” is the native Peruvian name.
  • Other names you may have heard include: mountain lion, Mexican lion, deer tiger, mountain screamer, Florida panther, painter and catamount.



  • The cougar can run as fast as 55 to 72 km/h (35 to 45 mi/h)
  • By comparison, the house cat = 50km and the cheetah = 100km


  • Cougars are obligate carnivores, like all cats, feeding only on meat.
  • Cougars hunt mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose calves, and in the west, bighorn sheep
  • Cougars will also eat a large array of available prey species if they are available. These include birds and other mammals, such as the beaver, snowshoe hare, ground squirrel, and rodents.


Big Air:

  • Cougars have an exceptional vertical leap (up), reported at 5.4 m (18 ft) .
  • Cougars can jump horizontally (along the ground) at nearly 12 m (40 ft) from a standing position.




Flamingos for Valentine’s Day February 14, 2010

Filed under: Birds,Fund Raising,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 8:17 am
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Chris Reid and I discussed flamingos on this morning’s Zoo Knew segment (heard every Sunday at 7:15 am) on the Weekend Wake-up Show on CJOB 68. Chris’s theme today was Valentine’s Day and what better animal for  February 14th than flamingos!? The zoo is open year round and visiting the flamingos, even in the winter, is a great way to spend an afternoon. You might even be lucky enough to watch the flamingos dance for you! The whole flock gets involved and they use the whole “dancing floor” to strut their stuff, show off their colourful feathers and create quite the noisy ruckus.  If you would like to visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo today to see the flamingos, the zoo is open from 10 am to 4 pm.

For more information on this month’s special Zoodoption Animal of the Month, the flamingo, please visit www.zoosociety.com

  • A special animal is available to be zoodopted every month for the special rate of $25.00. You can Zoodopt any animal of your choice at any level during the year, but if you choose our “Animal of the Month” you will receive the same package as the Friend level for the special price of $25.00.


Information on Flamingos

  • Long legs, a long, curved neck, a gooselike voice, and down-curved bills adapted for filter feeding, are characteristics of all flamingo species.
  • The joint in their leg about halfway up that looks like a backward knee is actually an ankle. And, like all birds, they walk on their toes.


  • Brackish inland lakes, coastal shores, mudflats, saltpans, saline lagoons


  • Algae, small crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic insects in the wild
  • Poultry pellets, dried shrimp, meat and bone meal at the zoo
  • Here at the zoo we include synthetic canthaxanthin (a carotenoid pigment) to the flamingos diet to avoid their feathers losing the beautiful colouring. A similar pigment is found naturally in the crustaceans that they eat in the wild.
  • The angled beak of the flamingo has a sieve‑like structure for capturing small aquatic organisms. They will stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom. They then tip their heads upside down, flutter their bills and strain water through their bill, catching food in their lamellae.


Fast Facts:

  • The word flamingo is originally derived from the Portuguese for ‘red goose’
  • Flamingos are an ancient group of birds. Their fossil records date back about 10 million years ago.
  • Both male and female, provide their young with a type of milk called crop milk.
  • Flamingos have different leg coloring from species to species.
  • Flamingos are naturally born white.

  • Most flamingo populations require a large colony for successful breeding. This poses difficulties for breeding flamingos in zoos. Small groups have been tricked into displaying breeding activity by using mirrors (making it look like the group is larger than it really is).
  • There are six species, four native to the Americas and two living in parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Some authorities recognize five species and consider the Caribbean and greater flamingos to be sub-species.


Caribbean Flamingo: (Phoenicopterus ruber)

  • We have approximately 30 Caribbean flamingos, housed in two flocks at the zoo.
  • The Caribbean flamingo is also known as the American or roseate flamingo.

Size: Approximately 80 – 145 cm (31 –57 in.) long

  • Females tend to be smaller than males

Weight: Approximately 1.9 – 3 kg (4.2-6.6 lbs)

Range: South America and the Caribbean with a small population in the Galapagos

Status: Not threatened

  • Population decline due to pollution, loss of habitat and hunting.
  • Total population is estimated 80,000 – 90,000 birds.


Greater Flamingo: (Phoenicopterus roseus)

  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo acquired a dozen greater flamingos in the winter of 2007.
  • The greater flamingo is lighter in colour then the Caribbean and is the most widespread of all flamingo species.

Size: 91 to 127 cm (36 to 50 in)

  • Wingspan is 140-165 cm

Weight: Average 8.75 lbs (4 kg)

Range and Status:

  • Southern Africa: 55,000 (decreasing). West Africa: 30,000-60,000 (trend unknown). Eastern Africa: 35,000 (decreasing). West Mediterranean: 80,000 (increasing). East Mediterranean and Asia: 500,000 (stable)



  • World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • BirdLife International
  • Sea World Infobooks
  • Assiniboine Park Zoo Education Archives

Compiled by Scott Gray and Jenna Harrison, Zoological Society of Manitoba

Revised February 13, 2010


Wolverines – Zoo Knew December 20, 2009

Filed under: Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:30 am
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Chris Reid and I talked this morning on the Weekend Wakeup Show on CJOB 68 about wolverines. As I mentioned on air, I try to provide some extra information on this blog about our weekly animal so remember to visit the site each week to learn more. On a side note, the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s wolverines are probably loving this mild winter weather. If you haven’t been to the zoo in a while, the Christmas break is a great time to do so.



We have 2.0 wolverines at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

  • “Huey” was born in the wild Yukon and arrived at APZ in July 2002.
  • “Grizz” was born in 1999 at Yukon game farm, where he lived for three years. He spent the next seven at the St. Felicien Zoo, moving to our facility in June 2009.
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s first wolverine was name Vishinski and he arrived at the zoo in 1952. The zoo has continuously had wolverines since 1978.
  • Six offspring have been sent to zoos throughout North America over the years including Minnesota, Grand Rapids, Pennsylvania and St Felicien.
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s wolverines are not part of a Species Survival Program at the moment. The IUCN currently lists them as a species of Least Concern in most of the areas that they are found.

General Information:

  • Wolverines do not hibernate but they do den.
  • The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family.
  • The wolverine is known as Canada’s “Hyena” because of its powerful jaws and large teeth are able to demolish frozen carrion and bone.
  • It has poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell.
  • Wolverines have thick, dark, oily fur that is highly hydrophobic (“water repellent”), making it resistant to frost. This unfortunately makes them popular for hunting and trapping.
  • Wolverines have anal scent glands for marking territory and sexual signalling. From this potent smell they’ve been given the nickname “skunk bear“.
  • Wolverines communicate through vocalizations and scent marking.
  • Average lifespan of wolverines in the wild is 7 to 12 years.

Distribution and Habitat:

  • Wolverines are circumpolar.
  • Wolverines are sparsely distributed in Canada’s northern boreal forests, but are more plentiful on the tundra and at higher elevations in the Rockies.
  • They are native to the western United States (including Alaska), Canada, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Mongolia, China, Norway, and Sweden.

Natural Diet:

  • They are opportunistic scavengers feeding on carrion (various deer species, seal) whenever possible.
  • They will also hunt smaller prey (rodents, rabbits, ptarmigan)

Zoo Diet:

  • Raw meat, chickens, rabbit and rodents


  • Wolverines are stocky and muscular, with short legs, a broad rounded head, small eyes and short rounded ears.
  • It has broad five-toed paws and a plantigrade posture that help through deep snow. It resembles a small bear mixed with a ferret.

Body length: 65 – 87 cm (25 – 34 inches)

Tail length: ~25 cm (~10 inches)

Weight: 10–25 kg (22 – 55 lb).

  • Large males can weigh over 31 kg (70 lb)
  • Males are around 30 percent larger than the females. It is the largest of terrestrial mustelids.


Arkive, The Wolverine Foundation, IUCN, National Geographic and others

Compiled by Scott Gray, Jenna Harrison and Jesse Kindzierski; December 19, 2009