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Planning a mixed-species aviary

Hello everyone! This is Birds Josh! One of the greatest parts of being a bird keeper is the diversity of species that we get to take care of. Zoo Atlanta is home to over 225 individual birds, representing over 50 different species. It’s great getting to observe how the different species relate with one another in our habitats. Here at the Zoo, we have a variety of what we refer to as mixed species aviaries, which allow us all to observe how these different species interact with one another. 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 from 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 common 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? Birds like the blue-crowned laughing thrush are incredibly cold tolerant and have no problem adjusting to Georgia’s winter weather.  Other birds, like the hamerkops that live in The Living Treehouse, will need to be moved to their winter getaway home to stay nice and cozy. So, it’s important that when it’s time to move less cold tolerant birds that they are accessible to keeper staff. These are all questions that our Bird Care Team considers when selecting the best fit for each of the birds.

One of the biggest and most difficult considerations would be the bird’s behavior. Just like us, each bird is different and reacts differently to situations. We need to make sure that each individual and each species can peacefully coexist in a shared space.  This is done by looking at what has worked historically here at Zoo Atlanta, by seeing what has been successful at other accredited zoological institutions, and very careful observations made by the Bird Team. We try our very best to set up our birds for success. This is often done by slowly introducing birds to a new space and new habitat-mates. The first step is usually allowing the new birds to meet their new neighbors through a barrier. We call this howdy-ing. Once everyone seems to get used to each other, we allow birds to have physical access to each other with observations to make sure everyone continues to get along.  

These are just a few of the considerations that are made 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 species aviaries and see how each bird interacts with one another. As always, we hope that you have a wonderful day!

Josh M.
Keeper II, Birds

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