Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Birdlore: There Be Chickens!

At the World Bird Sanctuary, we share our home with eagles, hawks, falcons, cranes, pelicans, owls...you name it!

Perhaps, the fan favorite of little children and a bird most visitors might not realize we have onsite are the....CHICKENS!

At WBS the children are always fascinated by  the chickens (photo: Gay Schroer)

Why chickens?  That’s actually a pretty frequent question I get asked by visitors when I’m working on our public Display Line.  The very young children gravitate towards the chickens, because they can engage them, unlike the birds of prey.  They love feeding the corn to our chickens (hint: the Turkeys love it too!) and they can pet them when staff members take a chicken to a children’s program.

Chickens like the Bantam Cochin chickens are actually quite easy to train.  They provide a comedic element to the bird shows WBS presents at Zoos, theme parks and aquariums around the nation.  The chickens run like mad across the stage behind the show speaker.

A white Araucana chicken with tufts on either side of its face (photo: wikipedia)

The Araucana chickens are actually a pretty nifty breed.  They are characterized by three distinct traits; tufts on either side of the face, rumpless (no pygastyle, or bony structure that supports tail feathers), and they lay blue eggs.  Araucanas are a wild species that  originated from parts of Chile in South America, dating back before the arrival of the Spanish explorers.  They were bred from two distinct breeds of chicken kept by the Mapuche Indians, the Collonocas and the Queteros.

One of the WBS Araucana flock displaying the rumpless trait (photo: Gay Schroer)

The Collonocas breed carried the traits for laying blue eggs and being rumpless.  The Quetero were tufted and laid brown eggs.  Overtime, these breeds would mix bloodlines to create the Araucana breed of today.

This beautiful member of the WBS flock displays the odd tufted trait – the tufts take many forms (photo: Gay Schroer)

The Araucana tufted gene, in particular, is quite interesting.  Getting lightly into genetic terminology, when you have two alleles (a variant of a gene) of the tuft trait inherited from both parents, a lethal gene is created.  Meaning, the chick will never hatch if it gains two tufted genes from two parents.  So, living tufted Araucanas will only ever carry one tufted gene and have offspring that are both tufted and non-tufted.  Even with only the one tufted gene there is approximately 20% mortality in the developing embryo.

One short story from Greek mythology involves the secret love affair between the god and goddess, Ares and Aphrodite.  To protect their secret, a youth by the name of Alectyron, was tasked with keeping a watchful eye out.  Unfortunately, he fell asleep while on the job and Helios, the sun god, witnessed the scandalous affair and reported the event back to Aphrodite’s husband.  Angry, Ares turned the youth into a rooster to prevent him from failing ever again to signal the rising of the sun.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary 

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