A Pheasant Pigeon Surprise

Hatchling in all its glory.
Hatchling in all its glory.
Feeding the hatchling
Feeding the hatchling

Twenty-eight days ago, a pair of Green Naped Pheasant Pigeons abandoned an egg they had laid in their aviary. Michele quickly had the Pandemonium team prepare an incubator in an effort to save the baby, and we’ve been carefully monitoring it for weeks.

Three days ago, the chick was born.

This is big news. Green Naped Pheasant Pigeons, while not officially listed as an endangered species, have been out of sight and ear of locals and bird watchers in New Guinea for some time now. As they are native only to New Guinea, this is troubling news. Combined with habitat destruction due to palm oil plantations, as well as the fact that there are fewer than 100 in captivity, it is safe to assume that this bird is in grave danger.

From my experiences at Pandemonium so far, I knew that the Green Naped Pheasant Pigeon was dwindling in number. But it wasn’t until this chick prompted a simple Google search from me that I realized just how mysterious this bird is. Things were quickly put into perspective when I typed in the species name and our own Pandemonium website was the first result. This means that the most information known about the Green Naped Pheasant Pigeon comes from Pandemonium Aviaries itself, a fact that does not help us when we are painfully aware of how little we know about the species.

With this in mind, the significance of this baby bird becomes incredible. And the delicacy of our situation becomes that much more real.

Baby birds are, if anything, high maintenance. Each morning the bird is weighed, and we calculate how many grams of food need to be mixed with 100 to 104 degree water to be fed to the bird with a disinfected syringe. The tissue that the bird is nesting in needs to be changed with fresh layers, the bird cleaned off of any food that made its way out of the mouth, and the baby replaced to its toasty incubator before it gets too cold. For two weeks this is done, round the clock, every two hours.

Any number of things can go wrong in this process. The syringe could be inserted incorrectly, the water made too hot, the baby kept out too long or fed too fast. If you feed the bird too much, its crop won’t empty and can sour, causing death. Too little, and it is left malnourished. Choking, scalding, sickness, and any other number of tragedies are also very possible when handraising a bird so young. The heart of this difficulty is that handraised chicks simply don’t get the same treatment as parent raised chicks. All of the food, sounds, and environmental conditions are merely imitations of what the parents do naturally, and because so little is known about this particular bird, there is no telling what we are doing right and wrong until it is too late.

But, despite all of these complications, the hatched egg is thrilling. The baby’s eyes bulge to nearly the size of its head, supported by a toothpick-like neck and two scraggly legs. Its feathers

are so faint and disheveled against its leathery black skin that the baby looks more like a mission fig than the newborn of a seriously threatened species of bird. The tiny Green Naped Pheasant Pigeon is not cute exactly, but its birth represents something big.

We are hoping for the best and working hard to keep this baby healthy. So far, it has been eating, pooping, and squawking, all good signs. And yes, this does mean that we grin happily when the bird poops. We’ve even picked out a few stuffed toys for it to play with once it is old enough.

We are learning every step of the way, and that is something to hold on to regardless of our worries. After all, saving species is what Pandemonium Aviaries is all about, and this new baby chick embodies that purpose and helps to reminds us what it is we’re working towards.

We’re going to need a name!

By Brittany Webb, Pandemonium Aviaries Intern