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How The Houston Zoo Is Giving An Endangered Bird A Second Chance

Thirty-five Attwater’s prairie chickens were released into the wild Tuesday, with more to be released later this year.

The endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken has faced numerous challenges in Houston. As the city expanded, the birds’ habitat shrank, and Hurricane Harvey further decimated their population. By 2018, only about two dozen Attwater’s prairie chickens lived in the wild.

But thanks to a recovery program at the Houston Zoo, 35 birds were released into the wild Tuesday. Approximately 200 will be released by the end of the year, according to Amber Zelmer, coordinator of the recovery program at the Houston Zoo.

The zoo breeds and raises the birds before releasing them into the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, located about 60 miles west of Houston.

“A big goal, which won’t happen this season, is to try and get our levels at the refuge back up above 400 or 500 birds,” Zelmer said. “Once we get them into the higher hundreds, that’s when they’re going to start contributing to the population on their own.”

The first step in the zoo’s recovery program is to incubate the eggs until they hatch, according to Zelmer. The newborn chicks are then kept in various cages, slowly graduating toward pens that provide them with more exposure to the wild. The birds are then sent to NASA for up to three weeks to live in natural prairie grass, before being released into the refuge. 

Watch recently-hatched chicks explore their surroundings at the Houston Zoo:

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