Central Park Zoo boasts the largest public collection of sea ducks in the world. Eight of their 23 different species on exhibit gave birth to healthy chicks this year. One of those was the appropriately named spectacled eider.
"Spectacled eiders have the characteristic ring around the eye from the moment they hatch," Susan Cardillo, animal curator at the zoo, told Discovery News. "The hens lay up to six eggs and have a shorter incubation period than most sea ducks. This is due to the need for young eiders to quickly fledge and leave the breeding grounds before the waters freeze over."
"These endangered sea ducks are the first to go to nest early in the season and lay eggs (up to 12) in early March," Cardillo said. "The hen will lay an egg every other day while the male guards the nest site. Once incubation begins, the male abandons the nest site and begins to molt."
According to Cardillo, "The long-tailed duck can dive up to 200 feet and (they) are considered the most skilled divers of all the sea ducks. The two ducklings raised here at the Central Park Zoo learned to dive at two days old."
"The male pochard displays a small white dot on the neck right below the bill to attract his mate by throwing his head up and back during courtship," said Cardillo. "A managed captive breeding program for this species is becoming increasingly necessary for continued conservation efforts."
"Pacific common eiders have the largest egg of all the sea ducks," said Cardillo. "The nesting hen will produce a thick blanket of cohesive down feathers to safely hide this large conspicuous clutch of eggs."
Although Pacific common eiders are the largest ducks in the Northern Hemisphere, their chicks still look rather small and toy-like.
This is the first year that the Central Park Zoo has successfully bred this species. Three of the chicks are so young that they are not even on exhibit yet.
"The red-breasted merganser is the only merganser species that nests on the ground, while others typically seek tree cavities to nest in," Cardillo said. "Courtship between a male and female is quite elaborate, including a dramatic head salute and curtsy that occurs on land or in the water."
"The Radjah shelduck brings a flare to any aviary due to their active vocalizations, ability to perch high, and (because of) the contrasting black and white feathers with an iridescent speculum," Cardillo said. "The young ducklings develop the highly animated behaviors within a week of age."
"Unlike most ducks, the pink-eared duck male plays a significant role in rearing the young birds," Cardillo said. "These so -called 'pink-eared' ducks don't actually have pink ears, but are named for the tiny patch of rose colored feathers just behind the eyes."
"The data collected each season from courtship through incubation to rearing the chicks are critical pieces of information that can assist conservationists working with these threatened species in the wild," Cardillo told Discovery News.