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A boom of baby birds

From an itty-bitty spotted dikkop to a big, fluffy hooded vulture, the Bird Team here at Zoo Atlanta has been busy caring for the many chicks that have arrived in what can best be described as a baby bird boom. Now this boom is not surprising as it is the peak of breeding season for many avian species, but it is exciting! Here at Zoo Atlanta, we like to let these new bird additions be reared and cared for by the parents with little to no human interference. However, there are times when the parents need a helping hand in caring for their young. One example from this year is our three golden-breasted starling chicks you may have seen recently announced on social media. Golden-breasted starlings can have a clutch of two to six eggs, and the mom will start incubating as soon as the first egg is laid. This immediate incubation means that the eggs usually hatch in the order that they are laid, and often gives the older chicks a slight size and strength advantage over the younger ones. In the wild, this size difference between nest mates can unfortunately result in the loss of the smallest chick; however, here at Zoo Atlanta, we are able to step in and provide some “parental” support.

When our most recent clutch of golden-breasted starlings hatched, we noticed a stark difference in the size of the third chick compared to its nest mates, but we decided to give it some time to possibly catch up to its siblings. After a few days, the third chick was not catching up but instead was drastically falling behind in weight gain compared to the other two. We were certain the parents were feeding all three, but it seemed that the smallest was probably being pushed aside and overshadowed by its larger siblings during feeding time, causing it to not grow properly. At this point we decided to step in and do what is called supplementary feedings for this little chick. Three times a day a keeper would close out the parents from the nest area (this tactic causes less stress to mom and dad while allowing keepers to work as quickly as possible to reunite chicks and parents) and pull the smallest chick for some extra TLC. During the supplemental feeding, we would offer the chick worms or a pipette of what can be described as a bug protein smoothie and allow the chick to eat as much as it could. Each feeding took about 10 to 15 minutes, and when done the littlest chick was placed back with its siblings and the parents given access to the nest box once more. Now the littlest chick never did catch up in size to its siblings, but it did get stronger and maintain healthy weight gain thanks to these supplemental feedings. We are happy to say that our extra care paid off and on June 18, the smallest chick successfully fledged from the nest (along with its siblings), and all three are on their way to becoming beautiful, healthy adults!

Katherine B.
Keeper I, Birds

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