It’s been a busy breeding season for bird keepers at Bristol Zoo Gardens as they care for more than 50 new chicks. The latest arrivals include 11 flamingo chicks, 12 lovebirds, four azure-winged magpies, three yellow cardinal chicks, eight lorikeets, two Luzon bleeding heart doves, four inca terns and two eider ducklings. Many more birds across the Zoo are also sitting on eggs.

But much of their time is being taken up by one particularly special, and very noisy, youngster – a Sumatran laughing thrush. The chick, named Sammy, is just one month old and has been hand-reared around the clock by keepers after its mother abandoned her nest during the thunderstorms in late May. Bird keepers retrieved the egg and incubated it in the specialist ‘Brinsea Hatching Hut’ within the Zoo, until it hatched in early June. For the first few days of its life, keepers fed it tiny pieces of fruit and meat every two hours from dawn until dusk.


Sumatran Laughing Thrush at Bristol Zoo


The tiny chick gradually grew stronger and keepers are now teaching it how to feed itself – by holding small pieces of food on tweezers and enticing the chick to come and get the food for itself, rather than being hand-fed. Curator of birds, Trevor Franks, said: ‘Sumatran laughing thrushes are an endangered species so every chick counts, as such it was an easy decision to rescue the egg and do everything we could to ensure the survival of the chick.’


Feeding the Sumatran Laughing Thrush

He added, ‘The chick is doing really well and is very strong and certainly very vocal! It is still very reliant on us for food, so it is important that Sammy now learns to be a bird and becomes self-sufficient, rather than relying on us to deliver his food straight into his beak.’ When Sammy is more self-sufficient he or she – as keepers don’t yet know its gender – will join other birds in the Zoo’s aviary opposite Butterfly Forest. It is hoped that the youngster will eventually join the captive breeding programme for this rare species.

Sumatran laughing thrushes, also known as black-and-white laughing thrushes, are native to Sumatra, Indonesia. They were common in the late 1980s but the species has suffered a very rapid, ongoing population decline due to trapping for trade compounded by habitat loss. The species has become extinct in some areas of Sumatra in the last 10 years alone.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is part of a European captive breeding programme to maintain a safety net population for these birds in captivity.

Trevor Franks
Curator of Birds, Bristol Zoo.

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