Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Bird Training: It’s Nothing to “Bawk” At
Written by: Anya Russom
If you’ve ever spoken to a bird only to have it talk back, you probably understand that they hold a certain level of intelligence. You may not have realized that talking and mimicry, while impressive, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the skills that birds possess. In the wild, bird behaviors are primarily used as means of survival. Captive birds have it a little different, and while they still have the abilities, they may not have to use them in the same way. In efforts to retain these skills and enrich the birds’ lives, many zoos, rehabilitation facilities, and other similar organizations practice bird training as part of their animal care routine. Here at the Lake Superior Zoo, we are no different.

One great thing about our zoo is that we have a lot of birds. Better yet, we have many different kinds of birds. This allows for an extremely diverse, interesting, and educational look at the differences in species and how training should reflect those differences. For instance, we all know parrots tend to be crowd pleasers. Our Double Yellow-headed Amazon, Korbel, is able to speak and perform a number of tasks with her trainer, Lizzy. What you might not understand is how important vocal communication and socialization are to parrot species. One main goal of training is to build relationships between bird and trainer. What better way than with good, old-fashioned conversation? Through fostering this connection, Lizzy can ask Korbel to replicate natural behaviors, complete an exercise, or present herself in a way that allows Lizzy to check her physical condition. Korbel might be the star, but she certainly isn’t the only talented parrot at our zoo. We actively train Alex and Casper (cockatoos), Cricket (caique), and Pico and Sammy (macaws) as well.

Of course, the parrots are a colorful bunch, but like I said before, we’ve got a lot of different kinds of birds at the Lake Superior Zoo. This means we also have a lot of different training styles. For instance, you don’t train a parrot the same way as you train a raptor (bird of prey). There are different goals, expectations, and methods used to fully benefit the birds during their trainings. Our raptors are a special case. Most of them are rehabilitated or have been brought to us from less than ideal circumstances, and the differences between the species are very prominent. This means that their training has to be specialized in order to best suit the characteristics of each individual bird. One big difference between parrot and raptor training is the use of equipment such as jesses (ties on their feet) and gloves. These accessories are used to protect both the trainer and the bird, as well as better control the training session. One of the main goals in raptor training is education. For instance, our Education department staff are able to work with Bu, the Eastern Screech Owl, Lady, the Red-tailed Hawk, and Aries, the American Kestrel, in order to teach people about the biology and characteristics of birds of prey. Through training, our staff are also able to construct relationships that ease tension and anxiety when it comes to handling. This allows for easier check-ups and safe, educational opportunities.

Now that we’ve touched on the two best known types of training, let’s approach something different. Did you know that in addition to our parrots and birds of prey, we also train our kookaburras and crow? If you’re looking to see something a little different from a bird training, these are a definite must. What’s so different about a kookaburra training, you ask? Well you see, while our parrots and raptors are trained to stay still with perches and special equipment, the kookaburras are fully flighted birds. Their trainer, James, trains them in their exhibit. The majority of their sessions consist of target training and relationship building, which helps to direct the birds around their exhibit and get them accustomed to having a person in their space. This is an extreme benefit to both bird and trainer and serves as a huge advantage in case of emergencies. Corbin, our crow, has a similar training model, though due to being hit by a car, he is no longer able to fly. Being a wild-born bird, Corbin is still not used to people. However, being that he can’t fly, he is unable to be re-released into the wild. Therefore, as part of his rehabilitation, Corbin works with his trainer, Jessica, in order to acclimate himself to guests. He also works with target training and perch movement. This benefits both his health and his livelihood.

It’s easy to see why we have so many shameless bird fanatics throughout our staff, and I may be biased, but I mean it when I say that we do have the best birds in town. On a personal note, I’ve been professionally involved with this zoo for almost ten years, and before writing this blog, I watched five different bird trainings. Let me tell you, even after all this time, they are still incredible. Watching the birds demonstrate their intelligence is amazing, and seeing the relationships between bird and trainer is remarkable—especially that heartwarming look of pride after a successful session. But don’t take my word for it. Come see what has our feathers so ruffled. Each training is different and special, and we want you to see why we are so passionate. Our “Oh Fur Fun” animal enrichment schedule changes monthly, but for January-March, you can catch parrot trainings every Wednesday and Sunday at 12:00 and kookaburra trainings every Wednesday at 2:00! If you’re looking to see something featuring Corbin the crow or one of our birds of prey, we encourage you to give us a call! We are more than happy to organize zoomobiles and training sessions through our Education and animal care departments. So on your next visit, I encourage you to spend a little extra time with our birds. Get to know them; maybe have a little chat. I guarantee that before long, you’ll agree with us when we say that bird training is nothing to “bawk” at.

posted by Keely Johnson at

Friday, January 18, 2013

The New Girl
Blog by Kim Matteen

I work at a zoo- I can’t believe it!  After 25+ years of working in mental health I really was taking things in a totally different direction. Some might argue that it wasn’t that big of a leap.  I will be blogging my “steep learning curve” in the hopes that you can have some fun reading about my adventures and learning more about the zoo at the same time.

Day One:  Within the first hour of my employment with the Lake Superior Zoo I had already played with 3 ferrets and been “warned” by a beautiful little bird native to the Amazon area to take it s-l-o-w while saying hello.  I’m not shy and I was on a mission to introduce myself to “Cricket”.  A former co-worker had to find a new home for Cricket after developing allergies and the nice folks at the zoo took him in.  My new boss Sam gave me some good and sage advice.  “Kim, just assume that all of the animals here might be able to bite you.  They probably won’t, but just keep that in mind.”

Day Two:  1/15/12  Everything I learned about lemurs I learned from “Madagascar” movies.  Peter, the Director of Zoo Operations was kind enough to educate me about the matriarchal society lemurs live in- so actually, “King Jullian” should really have been “Queen Julie Ann”.  Over at the “PCC” (Primate Conservation Center) I met Dave and Emily- devoted and talented keepers who were kind enough to show me the wonderful improvements for the animals in the nocturnal exhibit.  I was surprised and relieved to find 2 very relaxed foxes (yes, they were the same ones that in the “old days” that would pace incessantly).  Changes to their exhibit and diligent work by the keepers had helped calm their anxieties.  So much so, that these foxes had given birth to two kits that they raised to “adulthood”.  Quite a feat!

Day Three:  Zookeepers are artists.  Yep.  It was surprising to me as well.  Take the new Gila Monster exhibit for instance.  James is working on creating a visually appealing exhibit that is also pleasing to the Gila Monsters.  A fair amount of consultation on color, texture and design occurred today as James was working on creating the rocks for the exhibit.  It seemed that opinions were plentiful and I had a great view of the activity from my office. At the end of the day I stopped by to check it out for myself.  Not bad for a guy who is more passionate about hatching Peeking Duck eggs than forming, shaping painting fake rocks out of high density foam. 

Day Four:  Peter, our Director of Zoo Operations made the announcement on the two way radio system-  “Attention All Staff- Berlin will be going on exhibit this morning at 9:30 at her new home at the Kansas City Zoo.  You can see her live on their bear cam.”  Here’s the link: .
Ahhh- I love technology!  I couldn’t log on fast enough.  After stumbling around on the big world wide web I found it.  Sure enough, there she was!  I got goose bumps and even a little tearful.  

Next: spread the good word.  I had the opportunity to write a short press release.  My original title was “Lake Superior Zoo’s Berlin Goes On Exhibit”.  Our Education Director Sarah kindly stopped by after receiving my emailed version and said, “Kim, you may want to make a change to that title.  People might get confused and think that Berlin is back here and on exhibit if it wasn’t read carefully.”  She’s one smart lady.  The press release was edited to read “Lake Superior Zoo’s Berlin Goes on Exhibit in Kansas City”.  Much better.  Thanks, Sarah.  And just in case you’re wondering, so far today no one has asked to visit Berlin.

Day Five:  I knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  It took a 4 ½ days and I’m not sure if I should be disappointed or pleased, but I’m interesting to look at!   Well, at least I was for about a half a minute to at least one little boy this afternoon.

My (small) office has 2 windows that open up to the lower level of the main building. I am the first person to use this office that has opened the blinds.  It’s like I’m on exhibit.  Talk about a learning experience.

I made eye contact with my admirer.  Then I surprised him by putting a big-eyed stuffed tree frog up to the window.  He laughed.  So did I.  It’s the little things that can bring joy. 

My “Week One” is wrapped up.  I can say with certainty that I’ll show up again on Monday.  Good place.  Great people.  Awesome animals.  Happy Friday, everyone!

posted by Keely Johnson at

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Written by Anya Russom
Aah, February… a time of love and longing framed by the bracing chill of winter’s peak. What better way to warm your hands and heart than by supporting the zoo in its 5th annual Paw de Deux gala event? Join us on February 9th for a thrilling evening of both silent and live auctions, not to mention the divine drinks, dining, and dancing that the evening is promised to bring.

This year’s Paw de Deux will be held at the beautiful Greysolon Ballroom in Downtown Duluth. As you peruse the hundreds of auction items, be sure to enjoy complimentary champagne and martinis. After, you will be treated to a gourmet dinner followed by our live auction. Once the food has worn off and the drinks have kicked in, we invite you to bust a move and dance the night away to the musical stylings of the Pot Bellied Stallions. After all, Paw de Deux does translate as a dance for two!

Last year, Paw de Deux’s 180 guests wined, dined, danced, and donated their way to over $41,000 for the benefit of the zoo’s Pavilion Renovation Project. This year, all funds raised will go towards efforts to Rebuild • Renew • Revitalize the zoo after the flood we faced in June. What’s up for auction, you ask? We will have an amazing array of items ranging from the finest local art to exclusive zoo-themed experiences, elegant getaways, exquisite jewelry, fantastic dining and entertainment packages, superb services and specialty items, and more!

Tickets start at just $100 and are on sale now at or by calling the zoo at 218-730-4500 ext 203. Space is limited, so be sure to reserve early! If you’re looking to bring a group, make sure to read about our sponsorship levels. Each tier includes spectacular benefits including special behind-the-scenes tours with our animals and more! So break out your finest gowns and very best suits! We can’t wait to see you on February 9th!

posted by Keely Johnson at

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Written by Anya Russom

As the new year approaches, we can’t help but welcome it with our utmost optimism and gratitude. 2012 was a rough one for us… maybe the hardest we’ve ever faced. And yet, here we stand, more driven than ever before. I’m going to be cliché here and say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. As an organization, we have come to accept and embrace this motto. It’s easy to look back and feel the grief and heartache that 2012 has brought us, but that won’t do any good for anyone. The future is too uncertain, and that’s as exciting as it is scary, but as an organization that seeks to preserve the present in order to protect the future, we can’t really hope for anything more.

We sometimes refer to ourselves as the “little zoo that could.” It’s a name earned over time, and as we cross over into 2013, we will be celebrating our 90th anniversary. We’ve come a long way from Bert Onsgard and his pet deer, Billy. In our ninety years, we’ve survived the Great Depression, with many of our WPA projects (such as the bridges, Polar Shores [previously elephant house], and the Pavilion) still existing at the zoo. We first gained accreditation in 1985, lost it in 2006, and regained our accredited status in 2011 after the zoo was turned over from the City of Duluth to the Lake Superior Zoological Society. We’ve reinvented ourselves from the Duluth Zoo to the Lake Superior Zoo and changed our logo several times in order to keep up with the changing face of our organization. Finally, we’ve survived several major floods, the worst of which was in June 2012. Clearly, our history is not unscathed. And yet we press on, and it’s all thanks to you.

Through our hardships and our victories, you have been by our side. You’ve supported us through our toughest moments and have served as a constant reminder of why we do what we do. With your help, we remain the oldest, coldest year-round zoo in the country. Yes, Anchorage is colder, it’s but not older, and yes, Minot is older, but it closes when it’s colder (i.e. all winter). Hooray for fine-line technicalities! We are one tough, heart of the Northland, stubborn as all get out zoo, and we’re not going anywhere.

You might be wondering what are wishes are for 2013. Well, we’ve got a lot of them… too many to name here. But our greatest wish is for our animals to be at their happiest and healthiest and to give you the best zoo we can. Seeing how far we’ve come since our re-accreditation and even our progress within the past six months is invigorating. We want to be leaders. We want to bring you the best of what environmental education, animal conservation, and simple vacation have to offer. Of course, we’re always planning new and exciting additions and renovations for our animal exhibits, but updates on those will have to be given as they arise. One major accomplishment that will be ready for Spring 2013 is the renovation of our Safari Café. Our little eatery has served us well over the years, but it’s time for a change. For the upcoming season, we will be featuring a brand new menu (complete with some tried and true favorites) that focuses on farm-raised, grass-fed, organic choices. A full range of compostable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, etc. will also be implemented in an effort to expand our mission to its greatest potential. This plan is an offset of the Sustainable Twin Ports Training that a number of our staff underwent in Spring 2012. Families will also be happy to know that we will have a brand new train depot up and running for summer. The new installment will be visually similar to the last but will be placed out of the floodplain.

2013 is sure to carry its own bumps and challenges; we’re just hoping they’re not quite as harsh as 2012’s. This may be wishful thinking on our part, but we like to hope that this will be our best year yet. It’ll be so good that last year will seem like nothing more than a distant, albeit painful memory. Regardless, we will hold our heads high. To be charged with the responsibility of animal and environmental conservation is an endless mission, but one that we accept with our utmost gratefulness. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We will continue to grow for the benefit of the community and develop for the benefit our animal residents. In 2012, you showed us how much you care about our organization. This year, it’s our turn. As thanks for all you’ve done, we’re planning on making 2013 the year that the zoo gives back, and together, with you as our support network, we will take 2013 by storm.

posted by Keely Johnson at

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