With Easter behind us and spring in full swing, the Bird Team here at Zoo Atlanta has been hard at work managing our growing avian population, as guests and staff eagerly await the arrival of new babies. But as signage continues to surface announcing recent arrivals, I have found myself fixated on the evolution of parenthood instead. Just as a child adapts to their role, the adults display a visible transition from survivors to providers. So, this May, a month in which we honor mothers and guardians alike, it seems appropriate to celebrate all types of homemakers and feature their selfless contributions. Much like our own caretakers, birds create the foundation of our ecosystems by generously maintaining our homes, taking on less-than-desirable chores, and educating each generation through their environmental impact and historical evolution.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “A house is not a home.” This implies that while brick and mortar might provide shelter and security, a fulfilling environment requires more than the structure itself. Throughout our lives, our caretakers create enriching environments by adding colors, scents, textures, and more to our living spaces. Imagine stripping away all the art from your walls or losing the familiar fragrance of morning coffee. As nature’s homemakers, birds are often responsible for these detailed enhancements within our native surroundings. Their beaks transfer pollen between plants, helping sustain local species while their waste deposits seeds throughout their global travels.
Because of this, Zoo Atlanta’s partnership with the Georgia Audubon Society helps preserve both resident and migratory species through educational programs that promote public awareness and personal action. Their message challenged us to consider the impact of our own facilities, prompting strike prevention decals across habitat windows as their reflection can cause harmful collisions. In addition, Georgia Audubon Society offers a free Bird Guide App to guide you through identification and has shade-grown coffee available for purchase to support wild avian habitats worldwide. Through relationships like these, together we can help build a home in which both birds and humans can thrive.
If you grew up in a house with siblings, your guardians likely developed a list of chores and divided them amongst you. While they may have included tasks like scrubbing toilets or taking out the trash, children are rarely tasked with calling exterminators or trusted with germ control. Though frequently overlooked, these tedious, recurring assignments allow our homes to function properly, and some birds contribute similarly within our native environments. Not only do species like vultures minimize the spread of disease by consuming infected carrion, other members of the avian population also serve as pest control by helping manage rodent populations. Although repulsive to some, if these duties were not performed, you would likely share your kitchen cabinets with a rat colony or regularly encounter rabid animals.
Unfortunately, vulture populations continue to decline as they face several threats attributed to human activity. Another Zoo Atlanta partner, VulPro is an organization dedicated to preserving these birds of prey by educating the public on harmful poisons to avoid, locating and rehabilitating injured animals, and participating in breeding projects while contributing to ongoing research across Africa. This year, through our Quarters for Conservation program, 25 cents from the price of your admission will be allocated towards these efforts! Just visiting Zoo Atlanta can assist in the preservation of our ecosystem’s scavengers worldwide, giving back to the custodians of nature for the balanced environments we enjoy.
Before we are enrolled in school and are assigned to an educator, the caretakers within our home are often the only mentors we have observed. They aid in our understanding of the world and are responsible for teaching us the nuances of humanity from the time we are born. In doing so, we can observe patterns that help us understand the longevity of our species. Similar information we have gathered from birds offers us insight on our own ecological success and evolutionary timeline. A Motus station was installed on Zoo grounds in 2019 which will allow us to learn even more from our world’s avian population. This wildlife tracking system uses a global network of receivers to follow birds and others small animals tagged with radio transmitters. Thanks to this collaborative data, we can further understand our own environments and educate others. Similar surveillance has helped determine time frames within the year (March 15 to May 31 and August 15 to November 15) during which outdoor lighting can impact migration. Simple adjustments like timers or motion sensors can assist in creating a safe passage for travelling species, information we may not have known without innovative technology. Just as humans do, birds mirror their caretakers by passing experience between generations. That action creates shared history, establishes a foundation for progress, and can educate us all on our environmental success and its subsequent needs.
Over the past few weeks, nests across multiple habitats have been thoughtfully prepared by expecting species as staff monitors the progress of each. In some cases, this involves minimal intervention, while others may require specialized assistance to ensure success. Regardless, whether distantly encouraging natural behaviors, artificially incubating at-risk eggs, or carefully hand-rearing newly hatched chicks, the commitment of our care specialists guarantees a thriving community for the public to enjoy while contributing to conservation efforts worldwide. With Mother’s and Father’s Days approaching, we pledge to celebrate all caretakers and find ourselves especially mindful of the role birds play in each of our lives. As nature’s providers, we can all thank our avian populations for the environments we enjoy and the knowledge they share that might allow us together to create a better Earth for all to call home.