The Last Aviary (which, of course, was not) is a 20-foot long and 25-foot high structure, painted bright blue and purple and surrounded by greenery. Inside, there are a number of feeding and water trays, a few decorative statues, and two kiddie-sized pools that seem oddly out of place in the home of two 3-foot tall cranes. One pool is filled with sand, the other with fresh water, and they are meant to mimic the true habitat of the East African Crowned crane. Normally, these birds would live near a large flowing stream with an abundance of wild fish and insects. The two small pools are an attempted simulation of this; one that has proved to not be good enough.
For two seasons now, our cranes, Ferguson and Olivia, have tried to breed. Last year no eggs came. This year, our excitement sparked when six eggs appeared directly in front of one of our webcams. Thanks to the live stream of video 24/7, Pandemonium viewing records were broken as people tuned in to watch Olivia and Ferguson nest, and hopefully would see the eggs of this endangered species hatch live on camera. As weeks went by, one of the eggs was abandoned and three rolled away from the nesting area. This left two possibilities of baby cranes, and we waited anxiously for the hatching date. When the day came, it passed without event.
Eggs do not always hatch on the exact day expected, just as human babies are not always born on an exact due date. We waited longer. Three days, four went by. Still no activity. When the parents began to confuse the abandoned eggs with the ones that were cared for, we were forced to go into the aviary and remove the abandoned eggs. Another three days passed, and the cranes stopped nesting. We retrieved the remaining eggs from the aviary, and upon inspection saw no embryos. Our disappointment was palpable.
This failure made it quite clear how important environment is for these birds to be able to mate, and we have identified a few key factors in determining why Olivia and Ferguson cannot produce fertile eggs. First is the location of the aviary. Now, their home is far too public. The cranes need privacy in order to behave normally, and The Last Aviary isn’t up to par. Second is the size of the aviary. Although The Last Aviary is one of the largest on site, it is still too small for these birds that both express emotion and court through routines of dancing, jumping, and bowing. This is especially true if we plan to raise more of these cranes. More birds equals more space, and it is a top priority to keep our birds happy in their homes. The Last Aviary is a lovely environment and has served its inhabitants well, but it cannot be the place were Ferguson and Olivia hope to have chicks.
There is good news. As of now, Pandemonium has the land available to build this new home for Olivia and Ferguson. It is even next to a natural water source so that they can hunt and fish naturally, making it the ideal location. We hope to get this project underway as soon as possible; what we lack are funds. We are working now to raise funds to construct a new aviary for this precious species and hope to have some little cranes dancing around it next season.
By Katherine Gifford and Brittany Webb