Training for a Big Day: Brookfield Zoo’s Work With the Guam Kingfisher


The Brookfield Zoo is home to the largest population of Guam kingfishers in the world. Now, you might be asking what is a Guam kingfisher and why is this important? Let’s find out.

What is the Guam Kingfisher?

The Guam kingfisher, also called sihek in Chamorro language, is native to the Island of Guam. It has a chestnut-colored underbody with a metallic bluish-green back. The diet in its native habitat is insects, lizards, and small crustaceans. Unfortunately, it has not been seen in its natural habitat since 1988 and has been declared extinct in the wild for over 30 years.

During World War II, the brown tree snake from Australasia was accidentally introduced to the island of Guam, devastating the native bird population. Fortunately, a small group of 29 individuals was placed in a breeding program in AZA accredited institutions in 1986 to preserve the species from becoming extinct. With this small group, the Guam Kingfisher Species Survival Plan (SSP) was created. This small population has grown steadily over the past 34 years to 146 individuals today.

Repopulating The Guam Kingfisher
The Brookfield Zoo has participated in the Guam kingfisher breeding program since 1988, regularly hatching chicks to help grow the population. However, in 2015 with the help of the Guam Kingfisher SSP and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Brookfield Zoo was able to increase the number of habitats to hold Guam kingfisher to provide space for the population to grow. Currently, Brookfield Zoo houses three breeding pairs and 14 individuals with room to grow.

That growth could be happening soon! The plan is for Brookfield Zoo to be a Guam Kingfisher SSP staging site for birds scheduled to be returned to their native habitat for release back to the wild.

The USFWS and the Guam Department of Agriculture Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources (DAWR) are currently developing a conservation strategy plan, which includes identifying an appropriate habitat free from invasive predators where the kingfishers can be released. Releases back to the wild could start within the next two years. To help prepare the Guam kingfishers for reintroduced, the Brookfield Zoo has been training the birds for their return to their native lands.

Training Guam Kingfishers For Reintroduction
How do you train a bird for reintroduction? The Guam kingfishers are a “sit and wait” predator, waiting for a prey to come. Then they will swoop down, grab the prey in their beaks, bang the prey on a solid object, and eat it whole. If they are going to flourish when reintroduced, they will need to be very good at these behaviors, so the Brookfield Zoo provides foraging boxes that have soil, leaves and stick inside, so they are required to hunt for their food. Do not worry though, we still offer a regular diet daily just in case they are not successful at hunting quite yet.

Check out this short video of the Guam kingfisher hunting and stay tuned for more developments in the program!

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Posted: 3/24/2020 10:47:15 AM by Sean Keeley

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Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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