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Managing birds in mixed-species aviaries

Hello everyone! Kyle here from the Bird Team! A lot of you who have gotten to visit our Zoo have probably noticed that we have quite a variety of bird species to care for. One of the joys I get from being a Bird Keeper is being able to observe how the different species relate with one another in our habitats. Here at the Zoo, we have roughly around six mixed-species aviaries. Each species varies in size, diet, behavior, and even what their habitat would be like out in the wild.

There is a lot that goes into planning and researching which species to put together in a multispecies aviary. One of the easier things to consider is the size of the bird. Will the habitat be big enough for the bird to exhibit its natural behaviors that it would in the wild? This is a yes or no question that we can decide based on what other AZA facilities have observed, research that has been obtained about the species, or simply the past experiences of our senior keepers and curators past experiences. With size, we also want to consider if the habitat has the proper perching and foliage that the bird would thrive in. Although our Indian peafowl do spend quite a bit of time on the ground, they can often be observed roosting up high on the thicker perches to catch that morning sun. On the other end of the spectrum, the taveta weavers are often seen jumping, hanging, and flying from thinner branches in the denser foliage of trees. A second relatively easy question to answer is how cold-tolerant the bird is. Would we be able to shift a bird in easily overnight in the winter, will they only need a few heat sources, or are they just fine year-round? These are all questions that our Bird Team considers when selecting the best fit for each of the birds. Birds like the wattled cranes have access to go into their shed when temperatures get low but honestly, they will usually still choose to just be out on habitat and enjoying the brisk air. Other birds, like the hamerkops in The Living Treehouse, will need to be moved to their winter getaway home to stay nice and cozy.

One of the biggest and more difficult considerations would be the birds’ behavior. Just like us, each bird is different and reacts differently to situations. For instance, we have four white-faced whistling ducks here at Zoo Atlanta. One of the four shows more interest in the care team and will follow them around the habitat, while the other three often show more interest in scavenging for food or going for a swim in the pond. There are some birds that, even though they are the same species, don’t do well together year-round. This could be due to breeding season or just an individual bird showing more dominance and being territorial of their habitat. For these reasons, whenever we do introduce a new bird, we will often house them in a habitat next to the main one so that we can observe their interactions and vocalizations with other birds without their having physical contact with each other yet. Depending on what behaviors occur, we can assess whether it will be a good fit for that bird.

These are just a few of the considerations that are made in order to find the best habitat for each of the birds we work with. As keepers we are always making observations and educating ourselves to ensure that we are giving each bird a wonderful place to call home. Next time you are at the Zoo, be sure to check out the mixed aviaries and observe how each bird interacts with one another. As always, we hope that you have a wonderful day!

Kyle N.
Keeper I, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl