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Sunday, December 15

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Helping birds stay warm

Can you feel it? If you have lived in Georgia or even in the southeastern United States, you know exactly what I’m referring to. No, it’s not that holly jolly feeling you can sense welling up in your belly. It’s not even the preemptive grumbling your stomach is making anticipating that Thanksgiving feast. That feeling, it’s what causes you to bundle up and hunker down next to a fire at home. Beware … winter is coming!

Actually, it’s already here as most of us know. While it is easier for us as humans to put on layers to keep ourselves warm, winter temperatures bring our team the annual challenges associated with making sure all of the Zoo’s avian residents are warm. There are several reasons for this, and we will hit on a few of these below.

First, let us address one easier aspect of what we call “winterizing” in the Bird Department. Believe it or not, some birds are fine with the cold weather. The reality is that some of the birds that call Zoo Atlanta home are adapted to these conditions because of where the species normally resides. For this reason, we can let them be outdoors in most conditions. One example of this type of bird would be our golden pheasant in The Living Treehouse. Golden pheasants come from cooler parts of Asia, such as China, which can get very chilly and even snowy. In case you are wondering, we have let our pheasant, named Blue, experience snow before.

The next question we usually get asked on this subject is why not just move all the birds indoors? The answer is we do, if we can. Limited space and which birds have the highest need to be indoors are things that play into the decision-making process. An example of a bird who must have an indoor space is Cecil, our double-wattled cassowary. His species has high temperature requirements. He also is very geriatric, and we want to make sure the usual things that come with being older, such as arthritis, aren’t aggravated by cold weather.

Finally, that brings us to the birds who have a mixture of both indoor and outdoor habitats. These birds are given the choice to be outside in the elements or utilize the warm indoors. Some are even given access to heavily winterized areas of their outdoor habitat. An example of this scenario are the pied crows. They are in a strictly outdoor habitat but have access to an enclosed space that has its sides and top covered. Along with heat lamps, this traps the necessary warmth for them to be housed outside in very cold temperatures.

There is much more that goes into the planning and implementation of winterizing for our birds. These scenarios are meant to be a broad look at how we approach planning for winter in the Bird Department. Barring major weather events, such as Snowpocalypse, we are able to manage our population of birds in the ways described above. So, while you are snuggled up in a warm house this winter, rest assured that the birds you love at Zoo Atlanta are doing something similar. Stay warm, everyone!
Kyle L.
Keeper II, Birds

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