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The Mighty Pirate

Imagine you are dressed up like a pirate, eye patch and all, and you decide to visit the Zoo.  Would not being able to see out of one eye ruin all the fun you can have? Or would you just have to work a little harder to get to see everything the Zoo has to offer? This is an everyday reality for our new Bruce’s green pigeon chick, Pirate. Only being able to see out of one eye might put him at a disadvantage, but the Bird Team at Zoo Atlanta works hard to give him the tools to thrive just like all our birds!

a Bruce's green pigeon perches on a branchPirate is the third chick that has successfully hatched to parents who came to Zoo Atlanta in 2015 and 2016 from Houston Zoo and Nashville Zoo. Bruce’s green pigeons are canopy-feeding frugivores that like to nest high in trees. Here at Zoo Atlanta, they have four high nest platforms to choose from, surrounded by a mixture of real and imitated plants to give them lots of security during their 17-day incubation period and 17-day fledge period. This pair of pigeons specifically likes to have lots of privacy when they nest in our behind-the-scenes Avian Propagation Center. Because of this, the Bird Team here only monitors the Bruce’s green pigeon chicks through cameras placed in their area until they fledge and leave their nest. So, a full month went by before the Bird Team and Veterinary Team were able to get hands on Pirate for his first weight and exam the day he fledged. Imagine our surprise when we discovered Pirate’s left eye was much smaller than normal and sunken into the socket!

In general, pigeons rely heavily on eyesight. They can see in color, the ultraviolet spectrum and have 340-degree field of vision called monocular vision, indicative of most prey species. That means their eyes are on the sides of their heads instead of facing forward like humans. By determining the way Pirate’s eye reacts to light and motion, we can tell he doesn’t have much sight in his left eye. He might only be able to see shadows. Pigeons need their eyesight to look for colorful fruits to eat, alert them to predators, and find their flock members. So, our little one-eyed Pirate has some obstacles to overcome.

graphic explaining bird visionThe Bird Team’s first step to giving Pirate the best care and welfare possible was making sure he could navigate his area safety and find his food with ease! We did this through monitoring our cameras again and logging Pirate’s weight increases. His parents, mostly his dad, continued to feed him directly for about three months, but Pirate also started finding his own food bowl quickly. We added extra perching near food and shift doors and some closer to the ground in case Pirate were to miss a perch and fall. We also try our best to limit introducing new barriers and obstacles, so Pirate does not have to continually learn new environments.

The Bird Team also needed to make sure we were monitoring Pirate’s condition very closely in relation to his health, and that’s where the Vet Team came in! Both Zoo Atlanta veterinarians and veterinary technicians came to examine his eye, making sure it isn’t causing him discomfort and that he did not have any sort of infection. Because his eye socket is recessed, it’s possible for food and dirt to get in there and cause an issue. It also might be harder for Pirate to keep that area clean when he is bathing and preening. The Bird Team keeps a close eye on him to note any signs his eye might be bothering him, like discharge or rubbing/scratching at it.  

If Pirate was hatched out and living in the wild, his condition would be extremely hard to overcome. Without sight in that eye, Pirate would be an easy target for most predators. He would also struggle to find fruit to eat and may be outcompeted by other birds. But thankfully, here at Zoo Atlanta, he has a dedicated team to give him the best chance at thriving!

Note: Pirate’s sex is not yet confirmed, but we’ve used male pronouns throughout for ease of reading.

Sam G.
Keeper I, Birds

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