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Keeper Stories – Tuesday, April 11

Hello Zoo Atlanta fans! My name is Katherine Biddle, and I am a Seasonal Bird Keeper here at the Zoo. As with any typical bird nerd, I have a love for all things feathered and flying. However, there is a special place in my heart for those that belong to the group known as birds of prey. Before I got involved with Zoo Atlanta, I was a volunteer for four years at the Southeastern Raptor Center in Auburn, Alabama, where I gained experience with all types of raptors from tiny little screech owls to powerful golden eagles. We would rehabilitate and release the ones that we could, and those that we couldn’t were used as ambassadors to help educate the public on native raptor species. So, as you can imagine, when I found out that I got to continue working with raptors by helping hand-rear a baby milky eagle owl, I was beyond excited!

Milky eagle owls are native to sub-Saharan Africa, and many zoo-goers are unaware that Zoo Atlanta is the home of the ONLY breeding pair of milky eagle-owls in the United States! If we are lucky, the Bird Department helps raise a couple of chicks each year, and as with most babies, taking care of a young chick can be very time consuming. For being so tiny, he eats a lot! In order to keep up with his metabolism, keepers initially feed him small meals at least six times a day! To help lighten the load, the Bird Department creates a schedule that assigns a keeper to each feed for the day. Luckily, after about the first week, the amount the chick can eat in one sitting increases, which means the amount of times he gets fed starts to decrease. Along with this change we begin to see some physical differences as well. The white “downy” feathers which cover the chicks at hatching turn from snow-white to grey as the chick gets bigger. Those grey downy feathers then develop as the more adult plumage grows in. Those strong, grasping predator feet also grow in size, and these big feet become stronger, allowing him to move about the brooder more. One of the cutest things about young owls? They are fascinated with their feet, often staring at them as though they have no idea what they are. Yup, kid, that’s part of you! In a few weeks, the six feedings a day will be down to only three, and the baby owl will start looking like a large powerful African predator. So next time you’re at Zoo Atlanta passing by the milky eagle owl aviary, remember that even those large, fearsome birds of prey were once tiny cotton balls of fluff just like their offspring!
Katherine Biddle
Seasonal Bird Keeper

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl