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The gift that keeps on giving

Hi everyone, Kyle here from the Bird Team. It is that time of year to start decorating the house with lights, drinking hot cocoa, and giving gifts to loved ones. The birds here at Zoo Atlanta are no exception! We make sure that the animals have the best food, clean habitats, and are given enrichment daily. Enrichment plays such an important role in the care that we give to the animals to help keep them active and stimulated. There are many kinds of enrichment that are given, each hoping to elicit a specific behavior in the birds. We are most often trying to elicit behaviors and stimulate the birds in areas such as sensory, foraging, manipulation, and environment.

Sensory enrichment can range anywhere from putting a mirror in for the birds to look at, to putting different substrates for the birds to walk around on. The king vulture, Roswell, can often be seen sitting next to her mirror investigating what she sees. We also will give birds sea grass mats to walk around on and sometimes will hide bugs in the crevices that they can then manipulate to find a surprise.

Manipulation enrichment is a great way for birds to use natural behaviors to forage for food. For the milky eagle owls, we will sometimes put their mice under leaves or sticks that they dig through to find their prey. Other birds, like the azure-winged magpies, will get puzzle feeders so they can examine and move it around in the correct order to find some yummy treats. Then there are our blue-throated macaws, who enjoy breaking 2×4 pieces of wood or crushing nuts to keep their beaks in prime condition.

Food enrichment can encompass a wide array of things. Each of our birds has specific diets that the vets must approve to make sure it is nutritionally complete. Occasionally, we will give them a special gift that would not be in their daily diets. The Chilean flamingos go crazy when we release live crickets for them to forage after. For fruit-eating birds, we also use chunks of fruit instead of the finely chopped up pieces of fruit for food enrichment. And when summer comes again the birds are always ready for some frozen grapes for a nice refresher on a hot sunny day.

Environmental enrichment is one that we use often as animal care professionals. This could be us moving perches around to give the birds different paths to fly, or adding sand or hay on colder days for the birds to lay on or dig their feet into. The rhino hornbills just received a new swinging perch, and they have been using it nonstop! We also added a little waterway for our scarlet Ibis, sunbitterns, and hamerkops to bathe in or just wade through on the warmer days in their winter getaway home.

These are just a few things that we give to our birds for enrichment. Just like when you give gifts to your loved ones, we too always try to come up with new ideas or kinds of enrichment to surprise them with. This week our team cut out paper snowflakes that our macaws are going to love shredding. Hope you all have a safe and happy holiday!

Kyle N.
Keeper I, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl