American Kestrel

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to

Program and General Information

Also known as the Sparrow Hawk the Kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon. This bird can be seen “pumping” their tails to aid in balance while perching. Because of its small stature, the Kestrel is often blown in the wind and thus can have an erratic flight pattern. Despite this tendency, this bird is still capable of hovering over a field in search of prey.

The most common call of the American Kestrel is a shrill series (generally 3 to6) of killy notes that lasts just over a second.

Common Physical Features

American Kestrels are 22-31cm in length and weigh between 2.8-5.8 ounces. With a wingspan between 51 to 61 centimeters, these small falcons are roughly the same size as a Mourning Dove.

Males and females of this species look very different. Both genders are reddish-brown with black spots on their dorsal surfaces and have pale ventral sides. They also have black marks on either side of their pale face. Males have a gray-blue head and wings while females are colored more red-brown in these locations.

Habitat and Global Range

Kestrels are widely distributed throughout North and South America. They have adapted readily to humans and nests in large cities throughout the U.S. Their range covers the entire United States, Southern Alaska, British Columbia, Great Lakes, New England, and American tropics.


American Kestrels regularly eat a large variety of things including Insects, song birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Commonly taken insects include grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies and moths. Spiders and scorpions are eaten as well. Commonly hunted mammals include mice, shrews, and bats. This species rarely feeds on carrion except for prey that it has previously killed and cached.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Pairs of Kestrels will exchange food as gifts (often male feeding the female) while courting. Before selecting a mate, it is not uncommon for several kestrels to group together for the beginnings of courtship. American Kestrels are obligate secondary cavity nesters, which means they do not excavate their own cavities, but nest in existing natural and manmade cavities, including tree cavities, woodpecker holes, abandoned buildings, cliff/outcrop potholes, creases and cavities, and nest boxes. Kestrels are common in both farmlands and low-density suburban areas, as well as in open and semi-open natural habitats ranging from deserts to woodlands. They sometimes also nest in urban areas. The male is responsible for finding several nest cavity options for the female to see before she finally decides on a nesting location.

A female kestrel will lay somewhere between 3-7 white, creamy, pink or pale buff dotted brown eggs (35X29mm), which will be incubated for 29-30 days. While males may occasionally take over incubation duties, it is the female that does most of the sitting. The male will feed the female during and shortly after incubation. The young will stay with adults after fledging.

One of the continent’s most widespread raptors, kestrels breed in eastern and western North America, north to the tree line and south into most of Central and South America. The American Kestrel is a partial migrant, with large proportions of Canadian and U.S. populations migrating south in autumn. American Kestrels breeding in northern portions of their range are more migratory than those breeding farther south, and birds in northern areas migrate farther than those in southern areas. Many southern populations are sedentary, and this combination of factors produces a leap-frog migration pattern.

Fun Facts

  • The American Kestrel is the smallest and most numerous of the North American falcons.
  • While the young birds are practicing their hunting skills, kestrels will often hunt in family units.
  • There is a color (plumage–feather pattern) difference between the sexes. The male kestrel has blue on its wings, while the female is mostly brown with streaking, this is called sexual dimorphism.
  • The scientific name comes from the Latin word falco, meaning hook-shaped (falcate) and may refer to the beak or claws, and espervier, the Latinized French word for a sparrow hawk and probably refers to its size and prey.
  • The American Kestrel has been called a Sparrow Hawk, Killy Hawk (for the sound they make), or Windhover (for their ability to hover).
  • Cache extra food in clumps of grass, fences, tree roots, etc. to save for later and to hide it from other animals

Conservation Messaging

Preserve Open Spaces: Kestrels are an animal that prefers an open habitat like farmlands and meadows. Unfortunately these are the areas which are usually developed first. It is easier and cheaper for developers to urbanize an area that is already open, unlike a forested area, where they would have to cut down all of the trees first. We need to remember to preserve and conserve open spaces for animals like kestrels and corn snakes. Share the kestrel box with everyone and reiterate that the kestrels need to find a cavity and if they or someone they know has an acre or so of open land hanging a kestrel box is great way to positively impact kestrel populations.

Important Predators: Kestrels like other birds of prey are very important predators. Kestrels usually consume insects and small rodents which keeps the pest population low. They are very beneficial to farmers and our ecosystems.

Because Kestrels cannot make their own nest cavities, these birds lose valuable nesting areas every time a dead tree is cut down or an old forest is cleared. In addition, food sources for these birds are going down in numbers as well. Being a bird that mainly eats insects, pesticides spread on farms drastically decrease the amount of available prey for the American Kestrel. Building nest boxes on the edge of your lawn or field provides these birds with a safe place to raise their young.


African Gray Parrot

NOTE: Education Animals are “behind-the-scenes” animals & only appear to the public during Educational events. This includes scheduled events or programs such as daily animal mingles, private onsite programs, and zoo reaches. For more information, please reach out to

Program and General Information

Besides being one of the most popular pet bird species, African Grey Parrots are also one of the most intelligent. In recent years, much research has been done on the mental capacity of African Grey parrots by scientists around the world. The most famous instance of this is the work that Dr. Irene Pepperberg conducted with her famous African Grey, Alex. Using Alex and other African Greys in research trials focusing on communication, she was able to show that not only can African Grey parrots learn an incredible amount of human words, they can learn to use them in context to communicate with their owners. It has been said that these impressive birds have the mental and emotional capacities of a 5-year-old human child.

Common Physical Features

African Gray Parrots are Africa’s largest parrots. The two main subspecies of the bird are the Congo African gray and the Timneh African gray. The Congo, the larger of the two subspecies, can reach up to 33cm, weighing 400g while their shorter relatives generally reach about 30cm and only weigh 320g. Both subspecies are gray in color with white skin around the eyes and a black beak. The Congo has a more cherry red tail while the Timneh’s tail is darker red, or more maroon in color. They are known for their ability to imitate human speech, as well as a variety of other sounds.

Habitat and Global Range

African gray parrots can be found in lowland rainforests, mountain rainforests, forest edges, plantations, and farms, in central and west Africa from Guinea to Kenya, and Angola. In West Africa, populations of this species often make seasonal moves out of the dry areas in their natural ranges. They will make their nests in tree holes, often finding holes that were previously made by other birds, such as the woodpecker.


Diet in the wild includes seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and vegetation.

Behavior and Life Cycle

African gray parrots are monogamous and breeding usually coincides with the dry season. Once paired, these birds have been known to be very affectionate toward their mates. These behaviors include regularly sitting next to each other and frequently preening the feathers of their chosen partner.

African grays make their nests in hollow tree trunks where they lay 2-4 eggs in the bottom of the cavity. The eggs are incubated by the female only, but both parents will feed and care for the chicks. After about 2-3 months the young will leave the nest, but they may still be cared for, for another month.

These parrots are very social and live together in large flocks, especially when roosting. When they’re feeding, a couple birds may act like a sentry to ensure the safety of the flock. They will produce a loud screech to warn the flock of any threats. They are also very vocal in flight.

African gray parrots are incredibly intelligent and are capable of mimicking a large variety of sounds. They very commonly learn to imitate the voice of their owner and can have a large vocabulary of words. Some parrots in captivity may choose to mimic sounds other than human speech such as the ring of a phone or the bark of a dog.

Fun Facts

  • This parrot is considered to be one of the most intelligent parrots.
  • African gray parrots are considered to be non-domesticated.
  • African gray parrots have been kept as pets throughout history by the Greeks, Romans, King Henry VIII, and by Portuguese Sailors.
  • Alex’sdeath on 6 September 2007, at age 31, came as a surprise, as the average life span for a grey parrot in captivity is 45 years. His last words (“You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you”) were the same words that he would say every night when Pepperberg left the

Conservation Messaging

Although they are not currently threatened in their range, the African Gray Parrot is well on its way to a threatened status. Each year thousands of these birds are illegally captured for the pet trade. As pets, these birds have a long lifespan and will often outlive their owners. Rehomed birds can develop behavior issues due to stress such as feather picking or screeching. It is a good idea to know where your bird is from, and to only purchase birds that are captive bred, and not trapped illegally. It is thought that up to 20% of the wild population is taken for the pet trade every year.

Removal of habitat by deforestation also threatens this species of bird. Rainforests are often cut down to make room for crops to be grown. People often consider these birds pests, and will kill them if they threaten their crops. In some areas of their African home range, these birds are still hunted for bush meat.

When becoming a pet owner, do your research. Select animals that have been bred in captivity and not removed from the wild for use in the pet trade. Also remember to choose your pets wisely. You need to make sure any animal you decide to care for fits into your lifestyle. Do not get a pet unless you can adequately provide for their physical and mental well-being for as long as they live.

Supporting rainforest products that are sustainably grown can help to decrease the amount of deforestation being seen in the African gray parrot’s natural home range.


White’s Tree Frog

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Program and General Information

White’s tree frogs are an adaptable species native to Australia and New Guinea. A milky white coating called “caerviein” helps them survive in dry areas, allowing them to live in agricultural and suburban areas. Adults tend to have a fatty ridge above each eye, often giving them a sleepy appearance.

Common Physical Features

White’s Tree Frogs are rather large frogs and are generally around 3-5 inches in length. They have the ability to change color, though they are commonly a light bluish green to emerald green. The skin is covered with a thick cuticle that allows it to retain moisture as an adaptation to arid areas. They have large webbed toes and a second finger that is longer than the first. Their pupils are horizontal with a distinctive fatty ridge over the eyes. Males are more slender in appearance than females and have a grayish wrinkled vocal sac that is located underneath the throat region. While they are primarily nocturnal, they have been known to be active during the daytime.

Habitat and Global Range

Native to Australia’s north and east and also the southern part of New Guinea, this animal can live in seasonally dry and wet habitats, although they prefer moist forested environments. They have also been found living in suburban and agricultural areas with humans.


White’s tree frogs eat insects, spiders, moths, roaches and sometimes even smaller animals such as frogs and mammals.

Behavior and Life Cycle

For most of the year, they call from high positions, such as trees and gutters. During mating season, the frogs descend, although they remain slightly elevated, and call close to still-water sources, whether temporary or permanent. Like many frogs, White’s tree frogs call not only to attract a mate, but also to advertise their location outside the mating season, usually after rain, for reasons that are uncertain to researchers. They emit a stress call whenever they are in danger, such as when predators are close or when a person steps on a log in which a frog resides. Females can lay clutches of 150-300 eggs which hatch in 1-3 days after fertilization. Metamorphosis occurs in 2-3 weeks on average.

Fun Facts

  • Said to be able to alter how much water evaporates from their skin, they may be able to slightly control their temperature (impressive for a cold blooded animal)
  • The scientific name “caerulea” means “blue” in latin
  • Extracts from the skin have medical uses such as fighting staphylococcus bacteria that can cause abscesses, lowering blood pressure and treating cold sores caused by the herpes virus.

Conservation Messaging

Australian law gives protected status to the White’s tree frog—along with all Australian fauna—under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The IUCN lists it as a “least concern” species, given its broad range and population, balanced habitats, and because it is likely not declining fast enough for more threatened status. Some of the tree frog’s natural habitat has been destroyed. However, because of the long life expectancy of this species, any effects of a reduced reproduction rate will take longer to spot than they would in a species with a shorter life expectancy. In addition, these frogs have been found to be infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (BD) chytrid fungus, causing chytridiomycosis. The fungus thickens keratinized areas of amphibians, such as the mouthparts of tadpoles and the keratin in the skin of adults, preventing the healthy transfer of oxygen and other gases across amphibians’ skin. While more species are affected by habitat loss than BD chytrid fungus, the disease causes sudden and dramatic population declines that can lead to rapid extinction.

Research pets before you purchase them to ensure they are not being removed from their wild populations. Wash any items you take in waterways (i.e. boats, shoes) can prevent the spread of BD Chytrid fungus and help save amphibians everywhere.


African Penguins

Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: demersus

Status: Endangered


African Penguins, like other penguins, lack the long feathers used for flight in other bird species. Their feathers are small and dense, covering the body, and are used for insulation. African penguins are also known as black-footed penguins. They stand up to 70cm tall and generally weigh around 3kg. The common call of an African penguin sounds like the bray of a donkey.

They are black and white in coloration with black on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side of the body. The face of the penguin is black but white markings extend up from the throat and around the penguin’s eyes. A black horseshoe shaped marking is found on the penguin’s chest along with black spots. This black and white coloration serves as camouflage for the birds while they swim. The black back blends easily with the dark water below and the white belly, when viewed from below, blends with the sun’s light shining through the water. This means of camouflage is called counter shading.

African penguins have bodies shaped like bowling pins, and their feet are webbed. This makes them perfectly suited for a life of swimming. When on the hunt for prey, African penguins can reach a top speed of close to 12 miles/hr. The distance that African penguins have to travel to find food varies greatly. On the west coast a typical foraging trip could range from 18 to 43 miles for a single trip. On the south coast, foraging birds cover an average of 68 miles per trip. When penguins are feeding their young, the distance they can travel from the breeding colony is more limited. An average dive of an African penguin lasts about two and a half minutes, and is regularly about 98ft in depth, although dive depths of up to 426ft have been recorded.

When the African Penguins go off-grounds, or they are a part of a program, they are guaranteed that they will not be direct contact of any bird that is not a part of the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s animal program.  Individual animals will be transported in individual kennels; and there is also dedicated hygiene required for all equipment.  Constant monitoring of animals is required to ensure when that when an animal is return there are no signs of illness or distress and that any signs will be addressed immediately.  When programs involve other birds from the Lehigh Valley Zoo each carrier needs to be cleaned and disinfected and the penguin will always be transported in a specific carrier just for them.  We have a contract vet, and the birds are monitored daily by staff, they are on vaccinations schedules and malaria tx, if there is a question of illness, they can be segregated from the colony.  The health and safety of the birds is high priority.

Related to: Humboldt penguin, Magellanic penguin, Galapagos penguin

African penguins breed at 25 islands and four mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa. It has been recorded as far north as Gabon and Mozambique. Breeding on Neglectus Island, Namibia, was confirmed in 2001, following the absence of confirmed breeding since 1952 at least, and an increase in numbers since 1995. In 2003, there were thought to be 11 breeding pairs on the island. In the 1980s, the species colonized Stony Point and Boulders Beach on the South African mainland, and recolonized Robben Island. Immigration to mainland sites in recent years has been attributed to an eastward shift in the species’ prey populations. Just seven islands now support 80% of the global population. Its population at the beginning of the 21st century had fallen to about 10% of its numbers 100 years before. The total population was estimated at 141,000 pairs in 1956-1957, 69,000 pairs in 1979-1980, 57,000 pairs in 2004-2005 and 36,000 pairs in 2006-2007. Declines have continued, with the global population in 2009 estimated at just 25,262 pairs, equating to a decline of 60.5% over 28 years (three generations).

Diet in Wild:
The diet of African penguins is made up of marine dwelling animals. These birds have been known to eat over 25 different species of fish including anchovies, sardines, herring, and many others. Other than fish, African penguins may consume some types of squid and crustaceans if they are abundantly available.

Diet in Zoo:
The penguins are fed previously frozen herring, smelt, sardines, and capelin twice daily. Vitamins are provided, 1 to each penguin, daily to compensate for nutrients that may be lacking due to the limited number of species that can be obtained for their diet. Fish is defrosted each day for the next day’s feeds.

African Penguins are preyed upon by sharks and sea lions. Kelp Gulls, Sacred Ibises, skunks, armadillos, foxes, dogs and cats tend to feed on penguin eggs and chicks. Humans often also collect penguin eggs for consumption as a delicacy.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
African penguins live in colonies. They start breeding from between two to six years of age, but normally at four years. As with most other penguins, the African penguin breeds colonially, mostly on rocky offshore islands, either nesting in burrows they excavate themselves or in depressions under boulders or bushes. Historically, nests were excavated in the sun-hardened guano that existed on most islands. However, with the removal of the guano for fertilizer, surface nesting and nesting under bushes and other objects has become more frequent. Shelter at the nest site is important to provide shade and for protection against predators of eggs and chicks, such as Kelp gulls and Sacred ibises.

African Penguins are monogamous, and the same pair will generally return to the same colony as well as the same nest site each year.

Both parents continue to brood the chicks, and for about the first 15 days the chicks are constantly brooded by one of the adults. After hatching, the offspring are fed by regurgitation and watched over for eight weeks. These penguins may use a special fold of skin extending from the stomach to cover the eggs and keep them warm.  After this, the chicks attain full control over their body temperature, and no longer need heat from their parents. However, at this stage the chicks are still at risk from predators, and the adults continue to guard the chicks until they are about 30 days old, after which both parents can go to sea simultaneously. Chicks that are left alone often form creches, which serve more to reduce attacks on chicks from adults than to avoid predation. Unlike other penguin species, the African Penguin does not have a creche stage because of the isolative behavior during mating and nesting of the species.
African penguin chicks can fledge (molt) anytime from 60 to 130 days of age, losing their fluff and gaining “blue” feathers. The fledging period is often dependent on the availability and quality of food. The adults continue to feed chicks while they remain at the colony. When the young “blues” eventually leave the colony, they do so without their parents. These juveniles remain away from their natal colonies for anywhere from 12 to 22 months, after which time they return, normally to their natal colony, to molt into adult plumage.

Penguins are adapted primarily to cool aquatic environments, and the need to reduce heat loss is of major importance to all penguins. However some species, including the African penguin, have been able to successfully exploit warm terrestrial environments. Behavioral and physiological adaptations have enabled the African penguin to overcome the problem of being over-insulated for life on land in a temperate climate.

One of the ways in which African penguins have adapted to terrestrial life in the temperate zone is to confine their activities at breeding sites largely to dawn and dusk periods. Breeding birds nest mostly in burrows or under some other form of shelter, such as boulders and bushes, which provide some protection from the intense solar radiation during the day. Birds that are not incubating or brooding chicks, and other non-breeding birds, spend the day at sea or loaf in beach groups and swim regularly. Some birds do remain in the open in the colony; but these birds generally orientate themselves with their backs to the sun so that their feet, flippers and oral surfaces are shaded. Physiological responses to heat stress include panting (evaporative cooling) and moderate hypothermia.
When they aren’t in the tropical waters hunting for food, they live on the rocky shores where they reproduce and take care of their young.  When parents stop taking care of the young, they must learn to fend for themselves. Upon reaching maturity (of which only 40% ever do) they find a mate and remain with them for the rest of their lives. The adults, when hunting in the sea, live in groups of fifty to one hundred. While nurturing the young, however, the adults may live a more secluded life. These penguins live and hunt together and may look for food 50 km from their nesting grounds. African Penguins are able to get this far from shore because they can swim up to 7 km per hour.

An interesting behavior of this penguin is its manner of cooling off in the heat. The African Penguin spends most of the day in the water and spends the cool night on land. If they are unable to reach the water, as is the case when watching over the eggs, the African Penguin can dissipate heat through its flippers, feet, and open beak.

The molt cycle of African penguins is generally more synchronous than the breeding cycle. In South Africa most penguins molt from November to January, while in Namibia most molt in April and May. The entire molt takes about 20 days to complete, with the feather-shedding period lasting about 13 days of this period. Prior to the molt the penguins spend about five weeks feeding and laying down fat deposits, but lose almost half their body weight during the molt process. At the end of the molt the penguins return to sea and spend about six weeks fattening up again.

Life Span:
The average life span in the wild is 10-15 years. In captivity the average is 20-30 years. The oldest known penguin in captivity lived to be 40 years old.

Interesting Facts:

  • Flighted birds have hollow bones, but the penguin have solid bones.
  • African penguins have over 70 feathers per square inch.
  • Only seven islands support 80% of the global population.
  • Out of the 17 species of penguins recognized, the African penguin is the only species found in southern or southwestern Africa.

Conservation Message:
The African penguin population has been reduced by about 97% in the past century and currently only about 120,000 birds remain.  What population is left is still threatened by water pollution and oil spills, guano collection, human encroachment, and feral dogs and cats. Due to the drastic nature of these charismatic bird’s decline, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums selected the African penguin to be among the first 10 species selected for the SAFE program- Saving Animals From Extinction. The SAFE initiative aims to band together zoos from across the country to dedicate resources to selected programs in the penguins’ wild habitat. These programs, including building artificial nest boxes, accurate census measures, fish population analysis, may be the key to this species survival.

How can you help?

Visit your local AZA zoo and support SAFE and other conservation programs. Watch what you eat! Visit to purchase only sustainably-harvested seafood. Use a Seafood Watch card or download the free app to your smartphone to help guide you in your seafood purchases.