Birding New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo

My three year old son and I found ourselves with Good Friday off this year and after a faster than expected round of morning chores, decided to enjoy the weather and take a trip to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA.  Being the start of migration here in Louisiana and having just read a post on the ABA Blog where Ted Floyd explored birding at the Denver Zoo, I was inspired to keep my own list of birds at the Audubon Zoo.  And yes, he explains why it’s not cheating and I will too.

northern mockingbird - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Northern Mockingbirds are year-round suburban residents and could be found singing from many of the animal enclosures.

The Audubon Zoo is located within the continuous winding urban sprawl of the City of New Orleans suburbs sandwiched between the hard boundaries of the Mississippi River to the south and the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to the north.  It’s located south of Magazine street from Audubon Park and separated from the Mississippi River by the coolest stretch of public land in the city; The Fly.

The Audubon Zoo was named for the famous North American ornithologist John James Audubon as he called New Orleans his home for a time.  Appropriately, the space between exhibits has a good amount of habitat for a plethora of native and migrating birds.  The entrance and most walkways of the park are lined with one of the most dramatic and beautiful of all southern trees, the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana).  And in springtime, where there are live oak, there are migrant songbirds.  Almost immediately after stepping through the gate, a Black-and-white Warbler was found to be unperturbed in the canopy above a bustling snack bar and pen of bright pink Caribbean (American) Flamingoes.

black-and-white-warbler - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

I asked my son where he wanted to head first.  “MONKEYS”. Of course.  We watched the New World monkeys run and play in their enclosures and I tried not to get too down when I passed the gorilla exhibit with the too human look of sadness in their eyes.

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Easily, my favorite primate.

The African Savannah was up next and its moats keeping in the zebras and rhinos were teeming with typical New Orleans park wildlife.  This drain and nearly every log poking out of the water was covered in turtles. Mostly Red-eared Sliders with some Eastern Mud Turtles and River Cooters here and there.

red-eared slider - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Wood Ducks are year round residents in Louisiana and although not part of any exhibit, some seem to permanently reside in Audubon Zoo and Park.  Whenever I come to the zoo, I enjoy getting to see these tamer ones up close and personal because of how beautiful the males are and how easily they spook in the wild.wood duck - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

This Double-crested Cormorant was tricky as it was hanging out in the same moat as the African (I don’t know what kind) cormorant swimming in the same pen. I found that the zoo birds all seem to have ankle bracelets that mark them as zoo property while the wild birds did not.

double-crested cormorant vs african cormorant - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

On the way out of the African Savannah between there and the Sea Lion exhibit there is a magnificent old oak tree that all the kids climb on. It was absolutely brimming with migrants and late wintering species.  This Orange-crowned Warbler was keeping company with singing Northern Parula (one of our first spring warblers to arrive) Red-eyed Vireos and White-eyed Vireos.

orange-crowned warbler - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

A closer look in the oak tree yielded a Worm-eating Warbler!

worm-eating warbler - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Wilson’s Warbler!

wilson's warbler - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

And a Summer Tanager!

summer tanager - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

My favorite section of the zoo is the Louisiana Swamp exhibit.  It’s heavily planted with cypress trees draped in Spanish Moss which gives it a basin swamp type feel with just the right amount of Cajun cliches that’s just cheesy enough to be charming.
Probably also my favorite because that’s where I’m used to having lunch. We sat down to a hot sausage dog and a cheeseburger and I was startled by the amount of wildlife  (yeah, if I wanted Red Beans and Rice or Fried Alligator I wouldn’t be eating at the zoo).  Well, let’s say I ate lunch. My son chased this Eastern Gray Squirrel that was busy swiping fallen french fries.

eastern gray squirrel - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

common grackle - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Common Grackles were just hanging out on the railing and on top of the snack bar waiting for someone to drop food. I’ve seen this behavior frequently with Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles but I’d never seen this from Common Grackles.

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Best show during lunch was a Sharp-shinned Hawk attacking an American Crow. The hawk circled and dove at the crow several times but just seemed to annoy the crow.

black-crowned night heron - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA-001

Black-crowned Night Herons winter in New Orleans and several were still sticking around in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit.

eastern kingbird - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Eastern Kingbird

At this point my son was getting pretty tired and resorted to picking spiderwort flowers for mommy (who was working that day).  We decided to head out.

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gar fish collage

Alligator Gar (left) and Spotted Gar (right) located in the ponds in the Louisiana Swamp exhibit

green heron - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA-001

Green Heron

On the way out, the South American exhibit had a ton of ducks.  According to the sign on the boardwalk, I was able to pick out a few of the actual exhibit ducks.  They were being vastly outnumbered by Northern Shovelers, American Coot and, mostly, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

northern shoveler - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA

Northern Shoveler (male). I frequently see these ducks in parks and I’m still not sure whether or not they’re escaped domestics like the odd park mallards or just lazy wild ducks that decided migration is for chumps.

black-bellied whistling duck - 2016.03.25 - New Orleans Audubon Zoo, LA-001

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

All in all, 38 different species (wild only) were found.  That’s a pretty solid birding list for late March in the city while watching a toddler.   The sheer amount of live oaks in Audubon Park seem to make a decent migrant trap in the still very green but otherwise suburban neighborhoods of Uptown and Carrolton.  If you’re looking for a zoo that keeps a little bit of wildness around, the Audubon Zoo is the best I’ve seen.

Species Lists
Birds:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  2. Wood Duck
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Double-crested Cormorant
  5. Brown Pelican
  6. Snowy Egret
  7. Green Heron
  8. Black-crowned Night Heron
  9. White Ibis
  10. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  11. Red-shouldered Hawk
  12. American Coot
  13. Mourning Dove
  14. Chimney Swift
  15. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  16. Downy Woodpecker
  17. Eastern Kingbird
  18. White-eyed Vireo
  19. Red-eyed Vireo
  20. Blue Jay
  21. American Crow
  22. Fish Crow
  23. Purple Martin
  24. Carolina Wren
  25. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  26. Northern Mockingbird
  27. European Starling
  28. Worm-eating Warbler
  29. Black-and White Warbler
  30. Orange-crowned Warbler
  31. Common Yellowthroat
  32. Northern Parula
  33. Yellow Rumped Warbler (Myrtle)
  34. Wilson’s Warbler
  35. Summer Tanager
  36. Northern Cardinal
  37. Common Grackle
  38. House Sparrow

Reptiles:

  1. Carolina Anole
  2. Eastern Mud Turtle
  3. River Cooter
  4. Pond Slider (Red-eared Slider)