Breeding wood thrushes can be challenging because they have very specific needs that must be met or they will not breed successfully. Starting in the early spring, they increase their intake of insects. We also begin providing the birds nesting materials like pine needles, coconut fibers, mud and even a few pre-made, artificial nest cups. But the most important need is privacy.
If a wood thrush thinks a predator—or curious keeper or observant visitor—has discovered the location of their nest, they will abandon it. This is why our eight breeding wood thrushes live behind the scenes. Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservational Biology Institute is one of the only zoos in the country to breed this species in human care. So far, we have had eight surviving chicks from four separate clutches. They are all part of the breeding program; some live here, while others have gone to live at other zoos across the country.
During one breeding season, a pair of thrushes with chicks were housed in the same room but in a different enclosure than one of our single males, Woody. Woody could hear the chicks begging their parents for food but could not see them because he was on the other side of the room. He started gathering insects in his mouth and carrying them around looking for the chicks to feed even though they were not his! We all enjoyed seeing him demonstrate his fatherly instincts.
The goal of the wood thrush breeding program is to learn how to breed this declining species before they become rare. I am very proud to be a part of this trailblazing breeding program!