Zoo Atlanta will close early on Sat., May 25 for Brew at the Zoo. Gates will close at 1:30 p.m. and grounds will close at 3 p.m. 

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A spooktacular day for our feathered friends

Candy, costumes and decorations galore! Everyone seems to have a good time at Halloween each year. We as humans love to get involved in the holiday, whether that be through trick-or-treating or just simply admiring everyone else’s well-thought out costumes. Still, the question begs itself. How do the animals of Zoo Atlanta get into the spirit of Halloween?

The answer is through enrichment provided on a special day just for them. Enrichment, as it is defined in the zoological profession, is the dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of an animal’s behavioral biology and natural history. That’s a fancy way of saying we try to get the animals engaged by using their own natural behaviors. For instance, many birds like to listen, respond, or even mimic other birds’ calls. In their cases, we might offer recorded songs of other birds in their habitat. Now that we understand enrichment, let’s talk about a few Halloween examples for our birds.

What’s the one thing everyone thinks of for Halloween? Pumpkins! The Zoo offers an abundance of them to most of the animals. The trick is how your present it to them. Sometimes it’s as simple as placing it in the habitat, and that’s perfect for male cassowaries. These flightless birds leave the egg incubation entirely to the males, so anything that even remotely appears egg-like could be enticing to them. Our male cassowary, Cecil, has been known to sit on small pumpkins, so we offer them each Halloween.

Another object that comes to mind for Halloween is the scarecrow. Our scarecrows are simply old clothes filled with hay, looking somewhat human-like. While some birds might be frightened by their presence, others are intrigued enough to take a closer look. Ground hornbills are known for being very inquisitive and destructive. They like to use their long beaks to poke, reach, and even rip things apart. Once they figure out the scarecrow is not scary, Zazu and Gumby have a good time taking apart the fake “human.”

There are plenty of other items for Halloween enrichment for birds. Pumpkin pieces can be offered in their food bowls as a treat. Pumpkin seeds can be spread in yards for foraging birds. Halloween-colored paper chains are often taken by birds for nesting material. The amount of ideas of Halloween enrichment for birds is only limited only to our own imaginations. As long as we keep the focus on eliciting natural behaviors, everyone will have a happy Halloween each year. Even our birds!
Kyle Loomis
Keeper II, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl