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Keeper Stories – Thursday, December 8

Have you ever wondered what happens when Zoo Atlanta receives a new animal? Where does that animal go? How do we introduce it to its new friends? Well, you have come to the right place, because the Zoo Atlanta Bird Department is very good at introducing new animals to their habitats. We get most of our birds for our collection from other zoos. Most of the time, we are getting these birds due to recommendations from other zoo professionals for those animals to breed, but sometimes it is because they may no longer have space for them, or they have lone birds that need some friends. For example, Zoo Atlanta has a single male Guira cuckoo that lives in our Living Treehouse habitat. While this bird lives with almost 40 other birds, he no longer lived with another of his species, so we needed to find him a companion. Luckily, the Houston Zoo had a female cuckoo that they were willing and able to send to us.

So the paperwork begins! Once we get the correct permits and permissions from both zoos, including approval from each of the vets saying that the bird is healthy enough to travel, the bird can be sent to us. On her arrival, the first step that any animal goes through is to go through a 30-day quarantine. This is to ensure that the new animals are healthy, while keeping it away from any other collection animals, just in case they have anything that can spread to other animals. As you can imagine, animals make it through quarantine without any problems.

Once released from quarantine, there are a few different ways that we can introduce birds to each other, and they all depend on the personalities of the animals involved. Because our cuckoo lives in The Living Treehouse with many other birds, we decided to put our lone male into our indoor space for this introduction. This space is divided into two aviaries with a connecting door between them. So we placed the female on one side and the male on the other, allowing them visual access but not physical access. This gives the two birds time to get used to each other and gives the keepers time to assess how they are going to act.

After 24 hours, and no negative interactions through the mesh, we opened the shift door. Usually these introductions are uneventful, birds get along, or they don’t mind each other and sometimes they bond immediately. Rarely do we have issues, but we are always prepared for them. Because these cuckoos are so social, we were confident that he would be very agreeable to meeting a girlfriend. But when we opened that shift door, the male flew over to the female, the female fluffed up all of her feathers, and the male landed on the perch right next to her. They sat about six inches apart, then four, then two, then right next to each other! Within hours the male started grooming the feathers on his new girlfriend’s head! Today, at any moment, we can walk into the indoor space and see these two sitting very close to each other, and preening. It’s a very good match!

These birds will likely be inside until after this cold snap. So long as she learns to come in for the cold nights, they should be out in the habitat on nice days this winter. But look out for them in the spring in our Living Treehouse, where we anticipate they will do their best to fill the aviary with their offspring!
Christine Talleda
Lead Keeper, Birds

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