Alyssa Mechler

This month at Lee Richardson Zoo, we are celebrating several birthdays, including Mork, the sarus crane, who will be turning 49 on Nov. 7. Mork will be sharing his birthday treats with Mindy, another sarus crane who calls the zoo home. The sarus crane is the tallest flying bird in the world, and like many other crane species, their wild counterparts are vulnerable to extinction. Sarus cranes are found in South Asia and Australia, but you can visit Mork and Mindy here, where they help teach others about their species from across the globe.

Mork and Mindy reside in Wild Asia at the Lee Richardson Zoo; they are located next to the Takins. You can recognize Mork and Mindy by their bright red head and neck, while the rest of their body is covered in gray plumage. Mork and Mindy are a bonded pair and are often seen eating, drinking, and preening together. Sarus cranes are well known for creating strong pair bonds in the wild. They are so well known for this that they are a symbol of a good marriage to those in their native habitat. These tall and graceful birds partake in a courtship dance that typically takes place during the rainy season.

While they are the tallest flying bird, standing at six feet tall, they only weigh about fourteen pounds! How can a bird so tall be so light? They have hollow bones; these hollow bones can be found in all flighted birds and help them stay light enough to fly. The height of a sarus crane also helps them stand tall above the water where they find aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates all of which make a great meal for a sarus crane. Mork and Mindy get a special crane diet as well as other special treats from their caretakers at the zoo. In addition to well-balanced diet, they get veterinary care and special housing that their wild counterparts would not otherwise get. This great care allows them to live a long and healthy life; in the wild, they can live between 30-40 years old.

These large birds face many threats in their native habitat, including water diversions, unsustainable conversion of wetlands, habitat loss, poisoning, human disturbance, invasive species, and more. There are several conservation efforts in place to help the sarus crane population. In southern Asia, sarus crane advocates are connecting people with the species and helping them understand the ways that a sarus crane can help with biodiversity and play a role in maintaining the populations of their prey and the vegetation of wetlands. Even though we are here in America, we can help too, just by visiting Mork and Mindy at the zoo and learning about their species.

Don’t forget to wish Mork a happy birthday on your visit; he will be happy to see his zoo pals!

Alyssa Mechler is a conservation education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.