Chick season is here!
Chicks! Not long ago another bird keeper talked about preparation for breeding season. Now that the season has really kicked off, we’re finding eggs more often. This means taking careful care when it comes to working around these nesting birds so that they can bring their new chicks into the world.
Up in Zoo Atlanta’s behind-the-scenes Bird Propagation Center, we have multiple pairs of birds that we’re hoping will breed. While it takes a lot of work to make a space comfortable enough for a pair of birds to breed, another tricky part comes shortly after: the arrival of eggs and, eventually, chicks.
What do we do when we find an egg? The first step is to make a note in our records. We assign numbers to any eggs we find so that we can keep track of them. This helps us keep data on successful breeding pairs, telling us how many eggs have been produced that year, if they were fertile and what ended up happening with them. It’s extremely important to keep these records because it helps us remember what worked to allow our birds to successfully lay eggs and rear chicks.
Of course, the exciting part of finding an egg is its potential to become a baby bird. For most of our smaller species, the incubation period is only around two weeks. This means that a chick can hatch unexpectedly if we’re not regularly checking our birds’ nest sites. After finding an egg, we typically wait a few days before candling it. Candling just means we shine a light through the shell to illuminate what’s inside. Depending on what we see, we can guesstimate what stage of development an embryo might be in or if one is even developing. Usually, the most notable feature of a fertile egg is the appearance of blood vessels. The appearance of these vessels tells us that an embryo has begun to grow because these help provide it with oxygen.
Next comes the exciting part. For me, in the Propagation Center, the building can be quiet enough to hear the voice of a new bird. That’s how I discovered that our newest addition, a Bali mynah, had hatched. The chick will peep for its parents to come feed it, and this little one had a very powerful voice. With the chicks in the Propagation Center, where the nest boxes we provide are relatively easy to reach, it allows us the chance to check on chicks regularly. For this little Bali chick, I was able to weigh and photograph it every day so that we could keep records of its growth and make sure mom and dad were providing their chick with enough food. In the future, this will allow us to look back and compare new chicks with previously raised ones.
This is just the beginning of chick season. Keep an eye out around the Zoo and you’ll find more. New additions come quickly during this time of year, and it’s always fun watching the little ones learn how to fly!
Keeper I, Birds