The Henry Villas Zoo

The Henry Villas Zoo is a small zoo in Madison that just happens to be free. And if you know me, you know I can’t resist a walk-in aviary, so I decided to take an afternoon to visit.


The zoo was actually fairly nice and relaxing, and it held a surprising feature.

They are trying to incorporate solar energy to power some parts of the zoo.

They did in fact have the requisite walk-in aviary, where I got to see several birds (read: camera hams).

The yellow-rumped cacique below also had an interesting problem. Can you tell what it is?

He has scissor beak! Scissor beak is a genetic condition in some birds that results in malocclusion (or mismatching) of the upper and lower beak so that they don’t wear each other out and wind up overgrowing. Fun fact: this isn’t limited to birds or beaks. Cattle have conditions called corkscrew claw and scissor claw, which are also genetic abnormalities of the toe that cause it to overgrow.
There was also a kookaburra that was diving for pinky mice in his exhibit, which was very fun to watch (but very hard to get a picture of because he was so fast).

Not all the birds were having this much fun, though. The penguins had the look I’ve come to associate with Madison’s residents when the temperature gets too high.

What you don’t see are the other penguins trying to convince the zookeepers to let them into the air conditioning behind the exhibit door.

Something else I learned about Madison (and possibly Wisconsin in general) is how proud of their prairies they are. There are a lot of little restoration projects tucked into tiny niches and side streets that totally overflow with flowers and goldfinches.

And, as I’ve figured out, badgers. So there is of course a prairie exhibit at the zoo.

I almost burst out laughing when I heard a little girl walking through and asking her dad if she thought Bucky was going to be awake today. Yes, there is definitely pride for the badgers.

I wandered around past the children’s play area and saw the meerkats were enjoying the fine weather as well.

And around the corner was the cousin of the vultures at the National Zoo.

A turkey vulture! And his interrupted lunch. Warning: gore.

The vulture was having a bit of a problem keeping his food still because his feet and wings weren’t coordinating, which probably is part of the reason why he was a resident of the zoo. Fun fact: carrion eaters are pretty healthy despite their unsavory diet because they are resistant to a lot of the pathogens (like botulism) that can cause severe diseases in other species.

And since the turkey vulture was eating, it was time for all the others to eat as well.

The red pandas here weren’t nearly as grumpy as the ones in Tennessee, though the Aldabra tortoises didn’t look up from their food once.

The birds weren’t the only hams at the zoo.

One of the giraffes seemed to think he was a cow; while his buddy browsed from the hay feeder up high, he was doing gymnastics to get the green grass on the other side of the fence.

The lions were pretty funny, too. Two males, an adolescent and an adult, were calmly resting when the adolescent decided he wanted his buddy’s spot. So he stood up and started poking him until the older male stood, at which point the adolescent whacked him on the rear to get him to move before laying down in his spot. Talk about cheeky!

I saved the primates for last because I’d heard good things about the zoo’s primate house. Sure enough, several signs admonished visitors to respect the primates, and they had indoor-outdoor enclosures set back just in case people ignored the signs and tried to bang on the glass.

It seemed like they were all very involved with several foraging devices. The orangutans seemed especially interested in figuring out where all the goods were hidden.

Overall, I was left with the impression that the zoo was fairly nice, if small and in need of a few updates. Either way, it was a nice afternoon outing.

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