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Queen of the Aviary

Victoria crowned pigeonIf you hear “pigeon” and think of a dull gray bird picking garbage off the sidewalk, think again. The Victoria crowned pigeon is so regal, with its blue-grey and maroon feathers and its lacy “crown,” that it was named for Queen Victoria.

Both males and females sport the large crown, or crest, but the Victoria crowned pigeon that arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo last summer is female. Her name is Enga, after a province in New Guinea where the bird lives in the wild. “At first she was timid of her new surroundings, but after becoming familiar with her exhibit mates, she became more at ease in her new environment,” says Bryan Kwiatkowski, an aviary zookeeper. “She has become quite chummy with the crested wood partridge family and often can be seen foraging, preening and resting near them.”

At about 5 pounds and more than 2 feet tall, the Victoria crowned pigeon is the largest pigeon in the world since the extinction of the dodo. This bird also faces threats from habitat destruction and hunting, and it’s listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It spends most of its time on the ground and enjoys eating seeds, fruit and insects. Enga especially seems to like mealworms, Kwiatkowski says.

The Zoo expects to get a male Victoria crowned pigeon in the future and hopes the birds will breed. The pigeons make loud booming noises when courting each other. But for now you can keep Enga company on the west end of the Herb & Nada Mahler Family Aviary.

New Potto Climbing Around

PottoOn New Year’s Day, the Milwaukee County Zoo welcomed a new furry resident: a male African potto named Jabari. He joins female African potto Kiazi in the Small Mammals Building. Jabari, born in 2001, comes from Metro Park Zoo in Cleveland. According to Rhonda Crenshaw, area supervisor of small mammals, Jabari and Kiazi are already a perfect match and are expected to breed. “We didn’t have any issues introducing them,” Crenshaw says. “They love each other.” Jabari – whose name means “the brave one” in Swahili – has already gone as far as to scent-mark Kiazi. This is a common form of communication between pottos, using scent glands and trails of urine to mark their territory and to communicate their reproductive state.

Jabari moves around like Spider-Man. Instead of shooting out webs, he uses his joints to climb up the side of the wall with ease onto a nearby branch, where he crawls upside down to reach the other side. “Pottos can crawl under branches just as well as they can climb on top of branches,” Crenshaw says. You can tell the difference between Jabari and Kiazi because Jabari’s tail is longer and has a black tip at the end.

This small, nocturnal omnivore can hook onto any crevice with its strong grip. It has specialized blood vessels to maintain a strong grip for a long period of time. In the wild, if danger is near, the potto will sit very still to blend in and hold this position for hours. For extra protection, a potto will tuck its head for defense and project bony vertebrae along its neck. These vertebrae have sharp points and act as a shield. Yet its jumbo eyes make it look cute and cuddly. Crenshaw says, “Their faces and their little furry bodies just remind me of a teddy bear.”