A striking species of bird with an unusual backstory was recently human-assisted raised at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The crocodile bird chick, also known as an Egyptian plover, hatched on March 26 in a holding area of the Mahler Family Aviary. A blood sample taken several weeks after hatching determined that the chick is male.
While not a new species to MCZ, there are currently only 11 other crocodile birds in North American zoos, according to ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) — although they’re listed as a species of Least Concern in the wild by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Because the crocodile bird is so rarely found in human care, the animal care team at MCZ took no chances on something happening to the egg if it were to be left in the habitat for the parents to incubate and raise. After he hatched, the chick wasn’t tube-fed but rather, zookeepers taught him to eat on his own. They also avoided interacting with the chick so he wouldn’t imprint on people.
The crocodile bird is a shorebird and the sole member of its own scientific family, Pluvianidae. They’re native to the sandbars of tropical, sub-Saharan Africa. The species gets their name from their supposedly symbiotic relationship with crocodiles. According to Greek historian Herodotus, Nile crocodiles would lie on the shore with their mouths open, and the birds would fly into their mouths to feed on the debris and parasites lodged between the crocodiles’ teeth and gums. (However, to date, this mutually beneficial behavior has never actually been evidenced.)
Now more than 3 months old, the chick has been flourishing, growing rapidly, and is now independent. Guests can view the crocodile bird in the Aviary’s Kopje habitat, while his parents reside in the Termite habitat. You’ll recognize him by his black crown, “eye mask,” and breast band rimmed with white, along with his blue-gray back. His underpart plumage is a vibrant blend of salmon, yellow, and orange.
We’re so pleased to have this delightful and unique species at our Zoo!