The Calgary Zoo is pioneering efforts to bring an iconic prairie bird back from the brink of extinction in Canada with a first of its kind facility.
A special breeding facility at the off-site Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre is the latest step in the zoo’s reintroduction breeding program for the greater sage-grouse. There are fewer than 400 of the species in the wild in Canada making it one of the nation’s most endangered birds.
Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the Calgary Zoo’s Director of Conservation & Science, says the goal is to have 40 captive breeding pairs capable of laying more than a dozen eggs each a year. “We would look to match eggs and potentially put them into nests in the wild, or release chicks to join little chicks that are out in the wild which would be adopted by the parents. So, on the one hand we’d have about 40 breeding pairs, but we could actually be yielding far greater numbers of eggs or chicks for release into the wild eventually.” The breeding pairs will become a permanent population of the facility and will become the parents or grandparents of the birds going into the wild. There are currently 18 birds at the facility, collected as eggs earlier this year from Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan and from birds relocated to Alberta from Montana.
The 31,000 square foot Snyder-Wilson Family Greater Sage-Grouse Pavilion is covered with a fine netting system specially designed to prevent birds from flying away. Moehrenshlager says it’s also engineered to withstand heavy, wet snow, which is rare, but does fall in the area. “If the snow is super heavy, it can collapse enclosures. So, this facility is actually designed with that in mind, so it can actually sustain the load of even rare but wet snow to make sure the birds aren’t at any risk. So, we’re actually quite proud of that innovation because again we’ve had to pioneer the ground on it.”
The facility will have cameras mounted so researchers can monitor behaviours, to ensure the best conditions for successful breeding.
The Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre is also where the Zoo is involved in recovery efforts for whooping cranes, burrowing owls and Vancouver Island marmots.