New in the Zoo

A Word on Birds
April 1, 2020
Baby animals!

The newest primate babies—a sifaka (left) and a mandrill (center)—plus baby lowland gorilla Angela. Photos by Jamie Pham and Brittany Daniel

We miss you as much as you miss the Zoo, so until it is safe to reopen, we’ll try to keep you connected with all that’s happening here. In addition to the arrival of spring babies, our wild neighbors—birds, reptiles, and insects—are abuzz with activity and many of our native plants are in full bloom.

In addition to the recent primate births (gorilla, Coquerel’s sifaka, and mandrill), a female meerkat and female Speke’s gazelle were born. Both are currently behind the scenes with their mothers.

Our three gorilla bachelors have all been introduced and have access to their main habitat at the Campo Gorilla Reserve as well as behind-the-scenes living quarters. As with any new living arrangement, the “roommates” are still getting to know one another. A certain amount of roughhousing is a normal part of the social interactions during an introduction period. Animal Care and Animal Health staff are closely monitoring the animals’ activities at this time.

Gorilla tussle

For young male gorillas, tussling to assert social status is a normal behavior. Photo by Tad Motoyama

Two new chimpanzees have cleared quarantine and are gradually being introduced to our resident troop. Earlier this year, Hope and Vindi transferred to Los Angeles from the Tulsa Zoo in Oklahoma. Hope was born in 1991 at the Tulsa Zoo to mother Suzy and father Buddy. Vindi was born in 2007 also at the Tulsa Zoo to mother Jodi and father Alvin. This birth was in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan. Native to west and central Africa, chimpanzees are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due primarily to habitat loss.


Both Vindi and Hope were born at the Tulsa Zoo. Photo by Mo O’Leary

A Cape thick-knee and four rock doves hatched. Cape thick-knees (also known as spotted thick-knees) are wading birds found in a variety of habitats throughout southern Africa. The thick-knee chick is with the parents who share the weaver bird habitat next to Gorilla Grill. The white rock doves are part of the World of Birds Show cast and the new chicks are being raised in a behind-the-scenes facility.

Bird sheltering young

Like many birds, Cape thick-knee parents will shelter their young—literally taking them under their wings. Photo by Matt Carey

In addition to many of our avian residents nesting and raising chicks, Zoo grounds are popular with wild birds. In any given year, species ranging from tiny hummingbirds and bushtits to raptors including great horned owls and red-tailed hawks have raised young on Zoo grounds.

red-tail hawk nest, hummer nest

Zoo grounds are welcoming for a wide range of wild bird species, from hummers to hawks. Photos by Jamie Pham


The exceptionally heavy rains of winter 2018-19 led to a big bloom season, which supported a flurry of butterflies and other insects. Photo by Jamie Pham

It’s not likely that we’ll be seeing the type of super-bloom that last year led to flurries of painted lady butterflies. Between January and March 2019, almost 14 inches of rain drenched the region according to Los Angeles Almanac data. For the same time period this year, the Los Angeles area received less than five inches. But as daylight lengthens and temperatures warm up, more insects will be out and about on Zoo grounds—and your garden or neighborhood park.

Bee on a cactus

This female carpenter bee, dusted with pollen, is feeding on nectar in a cochal cactus flower. Photo by Sandy Masuo

Big red skimmers—vibrant red-orange dragonflies—are a sure sign of summer, and will likely be hunting at many of the pools in the Zoo around the time we re-open. Less conspicuous, but equally stunning is the blue-eyed darner. Dragonflies are not only beautiful, but beneficial to humans as well. Voracious predators, the adults consume significant numbers of mosquitos and midges while immature dragonflies (called nymphs) are aquatic and will eat any prey they can catch, including mosquito larvae and even small fish. Dragonflies were among the earliest flying insects, first appearing on Earth about 300 million years ago.


As the days grow warmer, the local reptiles who inhabit Zoo grounds will also become more active. The most conspicuous are our Western fence lizards, who can often be found sunning themselves on rocks and walkways, pursuing insect prey, or, in the case of males, putting on vigorous displays of push-ups that show off their physical prowess and blue bellies (origin of their other common name) to intimidate rivals and impress any nearby females.

A vigorous display of push-ups from a Western fence lizard. Video by Peggy Wu
fence lizard

Male fence lizards display bright undersides during mating season, hence their popular common name, blue-bellies. Photo by Robert McMillan

Although we’re not experiencing a super-bloom this year, there is still a dazzling array of super blooms flowering at the Zoo and in Griffith Park! Here are some scintillating California natives adding color to the Zoo.

California poppies are a bright spot in spring. Video by Andrew Lyell

In 2010, April 6 was declared California Poppy Day to celebrate our official state flower. It won this honor in 1890 when the California State Floral Society selected it over the equally lovely mariposa lily and showier Matilija poppy. In 1903 state legislators made it official. One of our most vigorous and vibrant wildflowers, it is also known as the flame flower and copa de oro (cup of gold). First Nations people used tinctures from this plant medicinally to relieve minor pain such as head and tooth ache as well as a sleep aid. Unlike its more notorious cousin, the opium poppy, the California poppy contains no opiates. They reseed freely and are popping up here and there on Zoo grounds as well as in Griffith Park.


Manzanitas are not only a feast for the eyes, but also sustain a range of wildlife. Photo by Andrew Lyell

Evergreen and drought-tolerant, manzanita is a great native shrub for wildlife. About 40 species are found in California and they range from low-growing ground covers to stately shrubs. Their elegant, lantern-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds and many native insects—some manzanita species even regulate their nectar to attract different pollinators throughout the day! The berries that develop when the flowers are finished look like tiny apples (“manzanita” is Spanish for “little apple”) and were an important food source for indigenous people and animals, including bears—another common name for this plant is “bearberry.” This is one of the lovely natives that grace the gardens adjacent to Keck Plaza.


Bladderpod is a California native that thrives in many growing conditions. Photo by Sandy Masuo

The awkwardly-named bladderpod is amazingly drought-tolerant, and, while this native shrub’s subdued grayish foliage may not be a terribly flashy addition to the landscape, it produces golden yellow flowers almost year round—even in the depths of our dry, hot summers. Because of this, it is an exceptional wildlife plant, providing a steady food source for hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other nectar-feeding insects. This plant grows easily from seed, which is why it has proliferated around the Sea Life Cliffs exhibit.

Ceanothus flowers

Ceanothus flowers can range from white to royal blue—all are attractive to pollinators. Photo by Andrew Lyell

Ceanothus is commonly known as California lilac, though it is not a true lilac at all but a genus of about 50 species in the buckthorn family, native to the American west. You can spot some ceanothus on Zoo grounds, but these shrubs also grow wild in Griffith Park—producing clusters of white or blue flowers this time of year. These are an important food source for a range of insects, which in turn attract many birds. Indigenous people used the flowers to produce a soapy substance for cleaning, and the plants’ root systems host bacteria that help to fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby reducing the need for fertilizer in landscaping.


Toyon blooms early, then produces a profusion of red berries. Photo by Lori Conley

In 2012, the L.A. City Council named toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), also known as California holly, the official native plant of Los Angeles. This attractive shrub commonly grows wild in chaparral areas and is becoming more popular as a landscaping plant due to its vigorous evergreen foliage, flexible growth habit, drought-tolerance, resistance to pests, and appeal to wildlife. The clusters of small, white flowers are not showy, but attract diverse nectar-feeding insects, and the rich red berries that develop later draw many bird species. They also served as an important food source for indigenous people throughout Southern California. Toyon is also known as California holly (though not related to English holly) and purportedly inspired the name “Hollywood.” You can see it growing in Griffith Park, along the Victory Boulevard exit ramp off of the 134 East, and throughout Zoo grounds, including the native plant garden at the front entrance, and the parking lot swales.

cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwings are one of the many bird species that rely on toyon as a food source. Photo by Robert McMillan