By Jennifer Nixon, Denver Zoo Bird Keeper
This week’s feathered friend is the very special Caboose, a baby African pygmy goose (Nettapus auritus). This adorable duck hatched in Denver Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center on July 18. Caboose is unique because he is the first of his species born at Denver Zoo since we first began housing them in 1973. This species has proven very difficult to breed in the past.
Caboose only weighed 20 grams when he was born, which is about the weight of 4 nickels. But he’s growing fast and is now up to about 50 grams. He should reach close to 200 grams when he is an adult.
Pictured on our blog is Caboose when he was 20 days old. He is silver and black – not yellow – like a lot of other duck species. The adult picture is of his father, which represents what Caboose will look like when he is grown up. Since his species is sexually dimorphic, Caboose will develop the beautiful colors typical of the males of this species.
Although he has “goose” in his name, Caboose is a duck. The differences between the two can be quite vague. They all belong to the Anatidae family, which includes ducks, geese and swans. In general, ducks are usually smaller and stouter, while geese are bigger and longer. That is not the case here, since African pygmy geese are the smallest, most colorful waterfowl species. Its bill is usually different, too. African pygmy have stubby goose-like bills, hence the name of the species.
African pygmy geese are actually “perching ducks” that nest in trees. If you visit Bird World, presented by Frontier Airlines, you can see the camouflaged nest box that is mounted on the wall of the Jungle exhibit, which is where Caboose’s egg was laid and his parents still live. African pygmy geese are native to Africa and Madagascar, where they use cavities in trees near water for their nests, and feed on the seeds of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.
Since Caboose is so important, he is being raised by bird keepers, who can monitor his growth and development, and protect him from unknown dangers. He currently enjoys eating crickets and duckweed, as well as very small pellets made for ducks and geese.
Visitors can see him through the window at the flamingo winter holding area, near the “How far can you jump?” pad. Caboose is growing fast, so come get a look while he’s still little!