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Love for the charismatic Blueberry, we will miss her

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to a bird as endearing as Blueberry the hornbill. Known to some as Blue for short, she was an especially flirtatious bird who had the uncanny ability to brighten days and produce smiles. Everyone who met Blue agreed, she brought an air of auspiciousness and her love of life was only matched by her love of blueberries. Thank you for being our very special hornbill, we will miss you.

Sweetest Blueberry. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Blueberry, our female knobbed hornbill, passed away due to chronic advanced liver disease and other age-related concerns. Blueberry was 22 years old and was considered a geriatric bird.

Blueberry hatched in May 1997 at Woodland Park Zoo and was named after her favorite treat, blueberries! The statuesque bird lived in the zoo’s Conservation Aviary where visitors could see her and learn about hornbills. In 2015, she transitioned to becoming an ambassador animal for the zoo.

Eric feeds a young male hornbill in 1996, Blueberry would have looked similar as a young chick.  Photo from Woodland Park Zoo archives.
As an ambassador animal, Blueberry joined other fellow ambassador animals at community events and schools throughout the region, participated in up-close experiences at the zoo, and made multiple in-studio appearances at various TV and radio stations. The zoo’s ambassador animals help increase inclusion and participation among audiences who have previously experienced geographic, economic, cultural, or ability barriers, and offer programs that build connection, empathy, and respect and appreciation for wildlife.

Blueberry was a huge fan of meeting new people. Here she is with keeper Seth and a young guest. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
“Blueberry thrived on human attention and people naturally gravitated toward her because of her beauty and charisma,” says curator of ambassador animals Rachel Salant. “She loved being surrounded by crowds at zoo fundraisers and programs, and relished the attention of cameras pointed at her. Anyone who met Blueberry was charmed by her. This is a very sad time for us and we’re going to deeply miss this beautiful bird.”

Regina Smith, a lead ambassador animal keeper, took over the reins as Blueberry’s primary animal keeper in 2017 after the keeper who cared for her retired. “Blueberry was mischievous and smart, but also snuggly and up for just hanging out,” says Smith. “I made it a priority every day to spend time with her doing the things she enjoyed most such as basking in the sun on our theater stage, getting head scratches, and riding in her crate—she loved going off-roading, the bumpier the better! This is a hard loss but we’re so grateful for the countless smiles she brought to each of us.”

"I’m really going to miss hearing her vocalize her deep barking sound, and then watching her regurgitate a grape or blueberry and try to feed it to you!" adds Regina. Sharing food items was Blueberry's love language.

Regina and Blue in front of Mobile Zoo. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
"Blueberry was amazing. Every single person she met over the years made a real connection with her. You could see it in their faces. Their eyes would light up, they would get this big smile, and have this beautiful look of amazement settle on their face. People would glow. I was lucky enough to see this hundreds of times over the last few years. It was one of the reasons that I loved to ask Blueberry to come to programs with me. I feel extremely fortunate that she always said yes." recalls Regina.

Blueberry lips! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

We had such a wonderful time celebrating Blue's twentieth birthday in 2017, she even had a smoothie named after her! Check out the Q and A with her devoted keepers Eric and Regina:

Like many animals at Woodland Park Zoo, Blueberry was well trained in a variety of behaviors that allowed her to actively participate in her own day-to-day care, including proactive geriatric care. According to associate veterinarian Dr. Tim Storms, the hornbill had been intensively treated and monitored for liver disease, anemia, and low iron levels over the last few years. “Blueberry was also on a prescribed physical rehabilitation plan to maintain her muscle strength as she aged. She was a cooperative patient that would patiently allow us to collect blood samples every few months to monitor her health, while enjoying head scratches,” says Storms.

Blueberry poses with some fresh and fruity treats. Photo courtesy of animal keeper Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo
Hornbills are notable as being one of the most magnificent bird groups in Asian tropical forests, and are also found in Africa and India in varying habitats. Knobbed hornbills are native to the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Lembeh, Togian, Muna and Buton; they are spotted easily due to their distinctive facial colors and markings. While hornbills are omnivorous, their diets are mainly fruits and figs; they are important seed dispersers in their habitats. A vulnerable species, the primary threat of knobbed hornbills is habitat destruction due to logging.

Woodland Park Zoo supports hornbill research through Conservation Partner, Hutan. The organization studies hornbill breeding ecology in Kinabatangan in Borneo, restoring and monitoring artificial and natural nests, and improving protections for the critically endangered helmeted hornbill.

Blueberry's presence at Ambassador Animals will be greatly missed. Knobbed hornbills are uncommon in zoos, with only about 23 in zoos worldwide. Photo courtesy of animal keeper Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo.
In addition, Woodland Park Zoo contributes to hornbill nest adoptions in Thailand with conservation associate, the Hornbill Research Foundation. The project subsidizes local villagers in conserving hornbills by protecting them and their nests. Villagers collect biological and ecological data for research purposes and monitor long-term hornbill populations in the area. Visit to learn more about saving hornbills.

In celebration of Blueberry's life and all of the amazing memories we know the community made with her, we invite you to share your favorite stories, drawings, photos or videos of Blue, and we'll make sure her dedicated keepers see your comments and memories. 

We'll never forget you, sweet Blueberry. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo


POkano said…
I have seen Blueberry many, many times over the years. What a charismatic bird she was! Will miss her. Many thanks to her devoted keepers for allowing us to visit with her all these years.
Unknown said…
She was beautiful and I loved to see her out with Eric at the Conservation Aviary and then later with Regina. Thanks for giving her a good and long life.