The Black-Chinned Yuhina – a Tiny Acrobat for the Small Bird Specialist

Black Chinned YuhinasThe Black-Chinned Yuhina, Yuhina nigrimenta, is one of the few small non-seedeaters that have gained favor in private bird collections.  While its dietary needs are not easy to meet, the Yuhina is an excellent choice for experienced keepers looking for an unusual, active bird that is not often seen in US collections.

Natural History

The Black-Chinned Yuhina is classified as an Old World Babbler, Family Timaliidae.   Several of its relatives, including the Pekin Robin and the Whiskered Yuhina (please see photos), are popular in the zoo and pet trades, while others are scarcely studied; new species are described each year. Read More »

The Kookaburra – Both a “Zoo Bird” and Surprisingly Common Pet

Laughing KookaburraIn years past the maniacal call of the Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae, was often used as a backdrop for movies set in “the African jungle”…despite the fact that the bird dwells in dry, open woodlands, and even cities, in Australia.  I had always been fascinated by our own Belted Kingfisher, and longed to meet this largest member of the Kingfisher Family (Alcedinidae) in person.  I was surprised when my chance came well before I began working in zoos – on a visit to a private bird-keeper near NYC!

Not So Wild After All

It seems that Laughing Kookaburras are well-established in private aviculture in the USA, and not that hard to come by.  This makes sense – they are impressive, interesting birds that tame easily – but it first came as a surprise to me as they seem so “wild”.

But it turns out that they are not all that “wild” after all…in their native Australia, suburban Kookaburras often swipe sizzling-hot meat from barbeque grills!  A few albinos have even turned up, and a relative, the gorgeous Blue-Winged Kookaburra, Dacelo leachi, is also occasionally offered for sale.

Keeping Kookaburras

I cared for a pair of Laughing Kookaburras for some years, and found them to be most delightful and interesting.  They became quite docile, were eager to feed from the hand, and always greeted me with a scaled-down laugh – a “chuckle”, if you will – when I arrived.

While usually reserved for announcing their territory, Kookaburras also give their trademark call when excited.  When I wanted the Kookaburras to perform for visitors, I had merely to show them a treat and then make a show of walking away with it…or, worse yet, offering to their neighbor, a cantankerous Cassowary (they did indeed seem jealous!).

Both would cock their heads at me in that most beguiling way they have, and then let loose with a barrage of hysterical calls.  Kookaburras perch very upright and with chests “puffed out”, as do all kingfishers, but my pair seemed to sit even “prouder” when they had “forced” me to part with a few mice (their favorite).


Blue-winged Kookaburra

My Kookaburras lived well into their 20’s on a diet comprised of mice, earthworms, locusts, chicks, hard-boiled eggs, fish and crayfishes.  Wild Kookaburras also take snakes, lizards and frogs.  Many keepers provide raw meat or commercial Bird-of-Prey Diet, but whole animals are preferable foods by far.


I feel that Laughing Kookaburras are well-worth your time if you can properly provide for them.  Despite their fine points, however, Kookaburras are not for everyone.  They stand almost 20 inches high and have a broad wingspan…no indoor parrot cages for these brutes!

Height – 15 feet or more – is especially important in their aviary…like all kingfishers, Kookaburras hunt by plunging down on their prey from above.  And their calls, which carry very far, are a force to be reckoned with.

Some Natural History

The 4 Kookaburra species (the taxonomy of a 5th is in question) are classified as “Forest Kingfishers”, and placed within the subfamily Daceloninae.  The common name is derived from the Wiradjuri People’s term for their unique call.

Unlike their relatives, most Kookaburras frequent dry habitats.  The Laughing Kookaburra is much loved in its native eastern Australia, and has been introduced to southwestern Australia, Tasmania and Kawau Island (New Zealand).

Further Reading

Kookaburra Natural History (National Zoological Park).

Video: tame Kookaburra laughing it up  


Laughing Kookaburra image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Richard Taylor

Bird-Keeping Adventures – Caring for a Pel’s Fishing Owl

Pel’s Fishing OwlToday I’d like to my shift focus from pet trade birds and introduce you to a species I’ve worked with for many years, the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Scotopelia peli.  One individual under my care at the Bronx Zoo lived into his 50’s, and provided me with insights into the owl-world’s most uniquely adapted predator.

Owl Diversity: Bug Hunters to Deer-Slayers

It seems that the various species of owls are viewed by most folks as “variations on a theme” – mysterious, nocturnal birds that feed upon rodents and vanish by day.  But within the owl family (Strigiformes) we find an incredible diversity of lifestyles – sparrow-sized Elf Owls that nest in cacti and hunt insects, Great Horned Owls that stalk cats in NYC and parrots in Costa Rica, massive Eagle Owls capable of taking deer fawns, day-flying Hawk Owls…the list goes on.  Among the most unique are those that specialize in hunting fishes, known collectively as Fish or Fishing Owls. Read More »

Common Myna Added to World’s 100 Worst Invasive Species List

Common MynaThe Common Myna, Acridotheres tristis, is a less popular pet than the Hill Myna, Gracula religiosa, but is just as bright, and a very talented mimic.  Unfortunately, admirers have released in many foreign habitats, where it causes a host of problems.

Mynas as Pets

The various Mynas are among the most sought after (and expensive) of all bird pets.  These beautiful members of the starling family (Sturnidae) often amass vocabularies that rival those of any parrot, and are amazingly intelligent.  Read More »

Lessons Learned – Larger Bird Cages Can Cause Problems – Part 2

White crested Laughing ThrushWhile providing one’s birds with more space is always a good idea, certain precautions must be taken.  Please see Part 1 of this article to read about an ugly surprise I was handed by a pair of White-Crested Laughing Jay-Thrushes, Garrulax leucolophus.  Today we’ll learn a bit more about these captivating little songsters.

Natural History

White Crested Laughing Jay-Thrushes range throughout much of South and Southeast Asia, and may be encountered from the Eastern slopes of the Himalayas to Vietnam.  They frequent forest edges and overgrown scrub, where their flashy plumage and “maniacal”, laughing calls render them among the most conspicuous of all avian residents.

Jay-Thrushes and some related species (please see photo of White-Collared Yunia) live in extended family groups and have complex social behaviors.  Youngsters usually stay within their parent’s range for quite some time, and help in rearing subsequent broods.

Zoo Antics

Both wild and captive individuals are playful and curious in the extreme, and never fail to entertain observers (at least when they are not stealing keys or other items…please see Part 1 for some amusing stories).  More than one keeper has compared their intelligence and sociability to that of parrots.

Those I cared for occupied a ½ acre exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.  They followed me from feeding station to feeding station and, had I not tossed them treats, would have stolen all the tastiest food items from each pan before the exhibit’s other birds had a chance to feed.  In the course of putting out the bird pans I had to leave one part of the exhibit, go outside and re-enter by another door, far removed from where I have exited. Yet the Jay Thrushes always predicted my movements – meeting me as I re-entered the exhibit required them to fly off in the opposite direction from where I had been, but this never confused the birds in the least.

Jay Thrushes as Pets

Laughing Jay Thrushes make wonderful, long-lived pets and will bond strongly with their owners.  They are not, however, suited to life in even the largest of parrot cages, and must instead be housed in outdoor aviaries or room-sized enclosures.

Not much in the way of food is rejected, but without a great deal of dietary variety they will fail to thrive.  Commercial insectivorous bird diet, into which has been added Softbill Select, hard-boiled eggs, chop meat and a variety of fruits, can form the basis of the diet.

Jay Thrushes have carnivorous leanings, and should be provided with live and canned locusts, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, snails, silk worms and other invertebrates, along with an occasional chopped pink mouse.  Steak or other bones bearing a bit of meat are great favorites.  Their intense reactions to wild-caught moths and other insects will leave no doubt as to the value of these food items.

Further Reading

The Bird Room – a Treat for Birds and Bird Owners

Great video of a pet Jay Thrush trying out his amazing voice



White-crested Laughing Thrush image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Robert Lawton
White-naped Yuhina image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Duncan Wright

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