Standing up for Songbirds: How the DZS Supports Bird-Friendly Initiatives  

Photo credit: Kip Kriigel

Authored by Bonnie Van Dam, curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

One of the greatest joys of walking outside is listening to the chirps and chatter of songbirds — from the warble of the yellow warbler to the call of the American goldfinch.  

Despite the beauty of their songs, these birds face enormous dangers every day, especially during migration season. Whether it be the reflection of untreated glass windows or the pull of bright city lights, man-made hazards have proved detrimental to local and migrating songbird populations. In this blog, we will explore some of these hazards and what can be done on a legislative, local and personal level to reduce these hazards and stand up for songbirds.  

Photo credit: Patti Truesdell

What are our legislators doing to protect songbirds? 

I recently spoke at a public hearing for Bill B24-0710, which is a Washington, D.C. Council Migratory Local Wildlife Protection Act. This bill would require all new building construction or façade improvements to use bird-friendly materials, like bird-friendly glass, which is specifically designed to make glass a visible obstacle for birds while remaining transparent to humans. A passed bill would also establish a Bird-Friendly Buildings Fund to support building owners as they work to implement these potential changes.  

Untreated, or non-bird-friendly, glass poses a major risk to migratory and local resident birds; between 365 million and one billion birds die each year in the United States when they collide with buildings. This is because the transparency and reflections of untreated glass leaves birds unable to tell the difference between the horizon and a solid building. Birds flying at night may also be attracted to, and therefore confused by, lights inside buildings – which leads to them stopping over, resting and refueling in our cities. Once the birds resume their migration journey, it’s likely they’ll encounter an untimely death after colliding with a glass window. 

These are tragic facts, but legislation like DC Bill B24-0710 can change things. While these types of bills only affect Washington D.C., Illinois, Minnesota and a few other cities nationwide, there are other municipalities looking to enact similar bills into laws as well. Related laws requiring bird-friendly buildings have been passed for New York City, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, Portland and other smaller, local jurisdictions – and each one of these acts will save thousands of birds’ lives. As our society continues to construct buildings with glass windows, it is also society’s responsibility to help birds navigate windows, which are silent and invisible hazards to them. 

The DZS uses bird-safe glass on its campuses.

What is the DZS doing to protect songbirds? 

In addition to supporting bills like DC B24-0710, the DZS has been committed to preventing collisions for our local resident and migratory birds for years. Because the state of Michigan has birds migrating from both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, the Detroit Zoo’s campus has 24 buildings equipped with bird-safe glass or retrofitted with film, and we’re constantly educating our guests about the importance of bird-safe glass with graphics and flyers.  

The DZS also focuses on collaboration to meet our conservation goals for songbirds. Our commitment to the Detroit Urban Bird Treaty creates bird-friendly environments and provides everyone, especially kids, with opportunities to connect with nature through birding and conservation. This is thanks to collaborative efforts between federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, that  

reduce work to limit hazards to migrating birds, promote community science activities and provide community education and outreach.  

I am a founding member of North American Songbird SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conservation program that harnesses the collective strengths of AZA-accredited facilities, alongside other partners, to grow conservation impact and effectively save species. NAS SAFE focuses on more than 300 avian species that migrate through North America to fight population loss that stems from habitat loss, climate change, building collisions and predation from outdoor domestic cats. Our bird collision initiative has gone a long way toward protecting these beautiful birds and setting best practices at the local, state and provincial levels.  

Photo credit: Roy Lewis

What can you do to protect songbirds? 

You don’t have to wait for your city or state to adopt bird-friendly legislation to do your part to keep migrating birds safe! There are plenty of low-cost and low-burden ways to make the glass around you safer for birds, including using bird-safe glass in new construction and treating existing glass with a variety of film products. You can even purchase bird collision prevention products at the Detroit Zoo’s gift shop! 

Additionally, you can: 

• Reduce evening lighting during peak migratory seasons by participating in Lights Out programs 

• Purchase certified Bird Friendly Coffee© to preserve neotropical bird wintering grounds 

• Select grass-fed beef to help save grassland birds 

• Purchase certified sustainable paper products to help preserve the nesting grounds of boreal forest songbirds 

• Participate in native songbird community science projects and Urban Bird Treaty activities in cities 

• Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day  

If we all — individuals, conservation organizations and legislators — work together, we can make a true difference and save the lives of countless migrating songbirds. 

Window decals are a great way to protect birds from building collisions.

Foreshadowing the Amphibian Crisis: The Wyoming Toad

Authored by Blake Klocke, curator of amphibians for The Detroit Zoological Society

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is helping a species hop back from extinction!

The Wyoming toad was once found in abundance in the Laramie River Basin. However, catastrophic population declines were observed throughout the 1970s. By 1983, the Wyoming toad was thought to be extinct. Biologists could make no clear determination for the cause of the decline.

With a bit of luck, a small population of about 20 animals was rediscovered in 1987 at Mortenson Lake, bringing hope that the species could be saved. Rescuing the species by bringing it into captivity was the only option to avoid extinction.

Amphibian Chytrid Fungus and Preventing Amphibian Extinctions

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, amphibian declines were common around the globe – something that puzzled biologists. At the time, there was no obvious answer as to why multiple amphibian species were rapidly disappearing in Australia, Central America and the United States. In 1998, the amphibian chytrid fungus – a microscopic primitive fungi – was discovered to be the cause of disease resulting in these declines. Biologists have attributed the amphibian chytrid fungus to be the primary cause of approximately 100 amphibian extinctions and to have impacted more than 700 amphibian species. No other wildlife disease has impacted biodiversity as much as this fungus. 

The Wyoming toad is highly susceptible to the amphibian chytrid fungus. The National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo was built in part as a response to the amphibian biodiversity crisis, which assisted in keeping some of the most imperiled species away from the edge of extinction. The Wyoming toads at Detroit Zoo live in a biosecure room, which keeps them safe from being potentially exposed to the disease!

Ex-situ rescue, which is when a species is brought out of the wild into captivity for conservation, is a last resort. Unfortunately, we are often left with no other options. Rescuing a species in captivity requires intensive management to maintain the population, and it’s a long-term commitment by a dedicated and passionate team.

Wyoming Toads at the DZS

The DZS was an early partner in rescuing Wyoming toads, welcoming our first toads in 1995. A Species Survival Program (SSP) was also formed in 1996 to organize efforts among zoo partners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The amphibian team at the DZS has produced 10,730 Wyoming toad tadpoles, toadlets and adults for reintroduction since joining the program in 2001! These animals are bred at the DZS and later sent to Wyoming to be released into the wild. The Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics at the Detroit Zoo has also led studies that have helped improve the husbandry of Wyoming toads in captivity by comparing the preferences for substrate, which improves our care for this very important species.

Caring for Wyoming Toads at the Detroit Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo

Mike Andrus is the primary colleague who takes care of the Wyoming toads at the DZS, and his years of experience in the amphibian department caring for these toads is one of the keys to Detroit Zoo’s success. Mike handles more than 30 toads at the Zoo, where he carefully cycles the temperature throughout the year, including when he places the toads in a refrigerator to hibernate. This process requires a lot of fine-tuning and experience – and prepares the toads, which are each equipped with their own individual ID to track genetics, for breeding.

Mike Andrus holds a Wyoming toad in the biosecure room.

Wyoming toad tadpole reintroductions

In June 2022, Mike traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to participate in the reintroduction of Wyoming toad tadpoles. Several thousand tadpoles were sent from SSP partners for reintroductions. It was a busy day, as tadpoles were placed in bags of about 100 animals and methodically distributed around reintroduction sites.

Tadpole reintroductions are very important to continue supporting the recruitment of new toads into the population. In the months following the tadpole reintroductions, hundreds of recently meta morphed toads are found — each one with the potential to make it to adulthood and breed in the wild.

Bags of tadpoles produced by zoos around the country and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acclimate before reintroduction.

Wyoming toad surveys

In August 2022, I participated in the Wyoming toad field surveys and an annual SSP meeting. The team was successful in finding many young toads, likely from tadpole reintroductions and some wild breeding. The most exciting part was finding more than 15 breeding-sized adults! Some of the toads had a small identification tag, demonstrating that reintroduced juveniles and adults from captivity are surviving in the wild.

Wyoming toads were found at all four field sites the team visited, a very good sign for a species that was once thought to be on the verge of extinction. Currently, there is no method to mitigate the amphibian chytrid fungus in the wild, but in recent years there are an increasing number of rediscoveries of species once thought to be extinct and vulnerable species persisting in the presence of chytrid.

We’re optimistic that the Wyoming toad will soon hop back from extinction!

A toad reintroduced months beforehand was found during our surveys and appeared in good health. Adult toads receive a tiny tag, much like a micro-chip for a cat or dog, that let us know who they are when they are found in the wild! 

Thank you to our SSP partners, who make saving this species possible:

• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

• Kansas City Zoo

• Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

• Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium 

• Como Zoo

• Mississippi River Museum

Seeing Green: DZS Team Plants Trees in Metro Detroit

DZS employees and their families are volunteering to plant trees throughout Metro Detroit.

Members of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) team have been rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty for a good cause. 

As part of our commitment to plant 2,000 trees at the Detroit Zoo, the Belle Isle Nature Center and throughout all of Metro Detroit, we have partnered with Greening of Detroit, a member of the Metro Detroit Nature Network, along with American Forests, the Oakland County Economic Development Department and Royal Oak Township to lead or co-sponsor five tree plantings throughout the area this fall. 

We have been thrilled to partner with Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit organization focused on enhancing the quality of life for Detroiters by planting trees, providing job training and involving youth in education about the natural environment. So far, we have completed three of our five plantings, and our staff is having a blast making our communities — quite literally — greener!

At a recent event, DZS employees and their families volunteered their Saturday morning to plant trees along Cloverlawn Avenue and surrounding streets in Detroit. After three hours of digging through compacted soil and clay, we were left with 50 brand-new trees lining both sides of the street. These trees will not only beautify the area, but they will also play an important role in the neighborhood environment. In addition to providing shade and habitat for local wildlife, planting trees in urban areas has been shown to reduce stormwater runoff and improve air quality. 

“These plantings are a lot of work — and a lot of fun,” says Andy McDowell, DZS manager of sustainability. “The DZS has always been committed to environmental sustainability, and now our team is thrilled to give back to local communities and make the world greener one tree at a time.” 

Interested in signing up for one of our remaining tree plantings in Metro Detroit? Click here.

Join us in congratulating our CEO, Dr. Hayley Murphy, on her Selection to a Prestigious Leadership Program!

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) top leader, Dr. Hayley Murphy, is ready to take her leadership skills to the next level.

Hayley has served as our executive director and chief executive officer since November 2021  and was recently honored by the Detroit Regional Chamber as one of the newest members of its Leadership Detroit program. Launched in 1979, Leadership Detroit is an eight-month transformational leadership program designed to challenge emerging and existing community leaders from southeast Michigan to bring about positive change. The program also aims to create awareness of key issues that affect the Detroit region. 

“I’m honored and humbled to be named a member of the newest class of the Leadership Detroit program,” Hayley says. “I’m committed to taking my leadership to the next level, challenging my previous assumptions and building relationships with the exceptional men and women who I call classmates.” 

As a member of the 43rd class of this program, Hayley is among 70 regional executives who represent a cross-section of the community, including business, organized labor, government, education, media, civic groups, health services and community organizations. After completing the program, she will join more than 2,000 colleagues who call themselves alumni of Leadership Detroit. 

“Leadership Detroit offers a unique experience that takes leaders on a journey out of their comfort zones to challenge long-held assumptions and to embrace multiple and diverse perspectives on quality-of-life issues in the Detroit region,” says Devon O’Reilly, the program’s senior director of community engagement and leadership development. “Through carefully curated sessions and experiences throughout the year, this class will have an opportunity to better connect with each other, hear directly from key regional leaders across multiple sectors, and enhance their intangible skills that will help them shape this region’s future in their positions of leadership.”

Hayley’s new involvement with Leadership Detroit is just one of the many programs she is affiliated with. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Great Ape Heart Project, an international, multi-institutional effort aimed at investigating, diagnosing and treating heart disease in great apes. She is also a veterinary advisor to the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and the Great Ape Taxonomic Advisory Group. Hayley also serves as the chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Ethics Board and as a board member for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  

“I couldn’t be more excited to extend my professional development and community involvement through the Leadership Detroit program,” Hayley adds. “I’m ready to dive deep into Detroit and its history, gain new insights into leadership theory and practice, and apply what I learn at the DZS.”

Join all of us at the DZS in offering Hayley a big congratulations!

Penguin Egg Laid at Cincinnati Zoo Hatches at Detroit Zoo

There’s a fluffy new bundle of joy at the Detroit Zoo! 

A yet-to-be named king penguin chick hatched at the Detroit Zoo on Aug. 13 — but this chick’s story actually began nearly 300 miles away, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The chick’s biological parents, 27-year-old Larry and 8-year-old Stacy, initially laid the egg, and Cincinnati staff quickly learned the egg was fertile through a process called “floating.” In this process, an egg is floated in warm water to look for ripples in the water. 

“We were excited to confirm fertility when the little bundle of joy was bouncing around like crazy,” says Jennifer Gainer, the Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of birds. 

Not long after, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan recommended the Detroit Zoo as a home for the future chick, and representatives from both zoos started collaborating – carefully crafting a plan to incubate, transport and transfer the king penguin chick egg to its new foster parents.  

Awaiting the little nestling at the Detroit Zoo was the perfect pair of foster parents – a 21-year-old male and a 7-year-old female named Gertie. These king penguins blended and bonded during the July to September mating season but didn’t produce an egg of their own. Instead, to prepare the couple for parenthood, zookeepers provided the pair a “practice” egg to care for until the “real” egg from the Cincinnati Zoo arrived.  

“It was a perfect situation,” says Jessica Jozwiak, bird supervisor at the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “We had a pair that was closely bonded but did not produce an egg this year, so we were able to give this egg to them. Everything has worked out wonderfully.” 

Since hatching, the chick has been thriving. While the sex of the chick is not yet known, it is growing up behind the scenes, closely cared for by its attentive foster parents. After fledging, the chick will live with inside the habitat at the Polk Penguin Conservation Center with the rest of the king, macaroni, rockhopper and chinstrap penguins who call the center home. 

We can’t wait to see this special chick grow up!