ferruginous ducklings - Daniel Bar-On - 28102011
The endangered ferruginous ducklings splashing in the Biblical Zoo’s lake yesterday. So far, the ducks appear happy to remain close to the Jerusalem breeding program. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Three ducklings made history at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo, on Thursday, when they were set free in a bid to restore their species' population in Israel and Europe.

But for the time being the ducklings, of the endangered ferruginous species, are staying put of their own accord. "They seem happy and in no hurry to fly away," said zoo director Shai Doron.

"All the spider monkeys living on the island in the lake rushed out to gaze at the lake's new tenants and watched them swim," he said.

The zoo staff hopes the ducks will fly off soon to live independently in the wild. "They are now free to make their way north and south, as they see fit," Doron said.

The ferruginous duck population had almost disappeared in recent years due to uncontrolled hunting and the dwindling of the natural water sources they breed in. The species is a medium-sized diving duck that catches fish by diving up to 10 meters deep into the water.

A few years ago the zoo decided to set up a breeding center to rehabilitate the duck population. The zoo received two pairs of ducks from a French zoo and soon the first three chicks hatched. Five others hatched recently and the zoo is expecting another nesting period in a few months.

The ducklings were tagged in order to monitor their migration. "But ducks cannot be tagged by attaching a ring to their leg, like other birds, because their legs are in water all the time and not visible for observation," said Doron.

"So we introduced a new technique to Israel - nasal rings. The ring does not bother the ducks or interfere with their eating or breeding," he said.

A zoo worker was sent to Portugal to study the new tagging technique. Every country has been allocated nasal rings in a different color, to enable birders to identify the ducks' origin.

"Israel was allocated pink ones. Birders who see ferruginous ducks anywhere in the world with a pink nasal ring will know they hatched in the Biblical Zoo," Doron said. "This is another stage in implementing modern zoos' vision - to identify a species population in danger of extinction and restore it."