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A day as a Program Animals Keeper

Hello everyone, my name is Katie, and I am the Summer Seasonal Program Animal Keeper here at Zoo Atlanta! That long title basically means that I get to spend the summer hanging out with a fun group of keepers who work with some birds, reptiles and small mammals to bring great educational programs to you, our amazing visitors. I have worked with birds of prey before in a few other nonprofit educational program settings, but not in a zoo, and I am so lucky to be able to join this group for an exciting summer.

My days are fast-paced and pretty fun – it is almost equal amounts of cleaning, working with birds, and prepping for and helping with theater presentations. Most of my mornings start out with weighing eight of our awesome birds: two milky eagle owls, a hooded vulture, a toco toucan, a laughing kookaburra, a lanner falcon, a barn owl and a Harris hawk. We weigh the birds every day to make sure they stay healthy and are getting the right amount of food, and it gives us a chance to refresh their water, too.

After refilling everyone’s water bowls, it’s time to get ready for the World of Wild Theater! I won’t spoil all the behind-the-scenes magic for you, but I definitely recommend coming to see the shows: they are lots of fun while also giving you cool facts and easy conservation tips! Even better, you can actually submit questions to Zoo Atlanta’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BirdBookLive, and we may answer that question in a future show. After the show, everyone (including the birds) gets lunch, and then it’s back to cleaning and prepping for the next presentation and so on, and just like that, the day is done!

I do have some previous experience working with birds of prey like owls, hawks, and falcons, and that is a great part of my day, but I really love to learn new things, and I get plenty of opportunities to do just that here at Zoo Atlanta. This department has an Abyssinian ground hornbill and four awesome parrots (a blue-and-yellow macaw, a Congo African grey, a yellow-naped Amazon, and a yellow-crested cockatoo) as well as the toco toucan and laughing kookaburra who are all new to me, and it has been so fun learning all about their species and how to work with them, as well as their individual quirks. Larry Bird, the Congo African grey parrot, loves to whistle and mimic sounds he hears (come to a World of Wild Theater presentation to learn more about mimicry!), and sometimes he and I whistle back and forth all day long. Abby, the Abyssinian or northern ground hornbill, does a behavior called parading where he picks up something in his beak (usually a piece of mulch) and walks around holding it high in the air, showing off to anyone who walks by. A highlight of my day is stopping and chatting with him about his latest and greatest piece of bark.

One of the coolest things I get to do is learn about training from the full-time keepers. From watching the rats learn behaviors for the shows to birds practicing stuff they already know, all the things you see in our presentations are the results of a long, cool and complicated process. I am constantly asking questions, and overall it’s such a great experience.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Hope to see you at the theater this summer!
Katie Elam
Seasonal Keeper, Program Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl