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The carnivorous birds of the Zoo

It’s not often you hear about carnivorous birds, and when you do, it’s usually focused on the large, flashy birds like owls, hawks, eagles, and vultures. But most people don’t realize there are many other bird species that are strictly meat eaters (and even more that are mostly meat eaters). Today I’ll tell you about the carnivorous bird species that call Zoo Atlanta home.

In the Bird Department, we have 13 species that are strictly carnivores. Some you may know, like the milky eagle owls, the three vulture species, or the southern ground hornbills (I mean, how can you miss it? They parade their food around for all to see!?) The others may surprise you. Take The Living Treehouse, for example. There are five carnivorous species in here alone. Can you guess which ones they are? One species has a giant nest in the middle of the aviary, and another has a second set of ‘eyes’ when it opens its wings. The hamerkop and sunbitterns! They are easier guesses since they spend most of their time around water, but would you guess the green woodhoopoes, racket-tailed roller, and guira cuckoos are also strictly meat eaters? They eat a lot of insects, as well as small vertebrates and eggs. 

There are three species left. Any guesses? One can be found right next to the ground hornbills. They sit very still to camouflage themselves against the tree they are sitting in. It is the tawny frogmouths. These guys are ‘sit and wait’ predators who, duh, sit and wait for prey who happen to cross their path before pouncing. They eat mostly insects, but will occasionally take a small vertebrate. The last two carnivores are found in Outback Station, and one species can be very loud! If you guessed laughing kookaburra, you guessed right! Their diet consists of large insects, small mammals and even snakes! Down the path from them are the white stork girls who are opportunistic carnivores, meaning they are likely to try anything they come across, but mostly feed on large insects, small mammals, and reptiles.

There are a few other species housed at Zoo Atlanta that are technically omnivores, whose diet consists of the occasional plant or seed, but the majority is made up of meat. These include the first birds you see when you walk in the front gate, the Chilean flamingos! These guys eat mostly small crustaceans (which also gives them their pink color) and insects. Down the path from them are the spotted dikkops who will eat the occasional grass seed, but mostly feed on insects, small vertebrates, snails, and crabs. Down in the KIDZone, you may hear these guys screaming every time a keeper walks by. It’s the masked lapwings. Like the dikkops, they will eat seeds and plants, but most of their diet is insects and earthworms. The last species is one you might not think eats meat at all. This species lives in the African savanna and forages in the tall grasses for insects, small mammals, and reptiles. It is our kori bustard girls. These two will supplement their carnivorous diet with seeds and berries.

The majority of our remaining bird species at Zoo Atlanta also eat meat, in the form of bugs. In fact, there are only a handful of species here that don’t eat meat in some form. These include two species of pigeons, the turacos, and our macaws, all of whose diet is strictly plant based (mostly fruit!). So really, there are more carnivorous birds at Zoo Atlanta than there are birds that don’t eat any meat at all! I hope you enjoyed learning about the carnivorous birds who call Zoo Atlanta home. Next time you come and visit, see if you can find them all!

Monica H.
Lead Keeper, Birds

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