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Keeper Stories – Tuesday, May 9

If you’ve been to the Zoo lately, you’ve probably seen many of our birds carrying around nesting material, building or sitting on nests, or even some new chicks in our habitats. Breeding season is in full swing for many of the birds in our population! While this seems like a pretty straightforward process, a lot of keeper planning and work goes into this season.

Keeper preparation starts months before the season. We consider all of the species that live in mixed species aviaries and plan possible modifications to ensure that there are no issues with birdy politics during breeding season! We also make sure that each pair of birds has multiple options to build their nests to reduce competition for a certain site. This means adding lots of nest platforms, baskets, and several different types of nest boxes to the aviaries, depending on the species there and their preferences. Once all of that is ready, we watch and wait, and tweak details as needed.

When we see the signs of a species starting their breeding behavior we take notes- we record which birds appear to be paired up, any courtship or breeding behaviors, and where they’re building a nest. We also take notes on which nesting material each species prefers so we can continue to provide what they need to be successful. There are so many options for nesting material that it’s sometimes overwhelming; trimmings from plants on Zoo grounds, coconut fiber, grasses, sticks, bamboo leaves, and feathers are just a few of the options we provide. We also have the hamerkops in The Living Treehouse who will use anything they can grab to build, including anything guests accidentally drop into the aviary, so keepers have to be careful not to leave anything in the aviary too far away while we’re working. There’s a possibility a few hose nozzles and drain covers have made it into their nest in past years.

Once birds have a proper nest, they begin to lay eggs. We check nests twice a week and record any eggs birds have and relevant notes. We check for fertility once the egg is about a third of the way through incubation, then leave it alone so as not to disturb the parents incubating. Once the egg is a few days away from hatching, we begin providing lots of mealworms for the parents to feed out. Soon after, the chicks fledge (leave the nest but still fed by the parents) and you get to see slightly smaller versions of the adult birds fluttering around our habitats!
Alexa Jansen
Keeper I, Birds

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