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Tuesday, August 30

As summertime is coming to an end, the Bird Department takes down most of the nest boxes that we had set up for spring, during prime breeding season, and we reflect on how our year has gone thus far.  Most of our chicks have grown up, fledged, and are thriving with their families.  But on occasion we have chicks that have needed a little extra help along the way. And that’s where this story comes into play.

At Zoo Atlanta we house four species of tropical starlings. Three of these species began to lay eggs in the Bird Propagation Center in late spring. These include Bali mynah, amethyst and gold-breasted starlings.


Every parent seemed to be doing a great job incubating their eggs, as the keepers saw the parents go inside the box and the eggs felt warm when the keepers came in to check on them, which means the parents had been sitting on them.

When each chick hatched, we began to weigh them individually and perform a close examination of them to make sure that they looked healthy and hydrated. But after about a week went by, we noticed that the gold-breasted starlings were not gaining weight as the other chicks were.

We watched the parents consistently bring the chicks food. So what was causing them to have poor weight gain? To make sure they were getting enough food we began to give supplemental feeds four times a day. Even giving them that extra food, the chicks were not gaining any weight.  Keepers, the Curator and vet staff then made a decision to pull the chicks from the nest box and to put them into an AICU (Avian Intensive Care Unit). This way keepers could measure exactly what the chicks were consuming and give them some extra fluids and nutrients. We realized we were committing ourselves to a lot of extra work, as the chicks were being fed every 30 to 45 minutes, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. for at least two to three weeks. Sounds easy? Not easy!

As the chicks grew in length, we noticed that one of the chicks’ legs kept moving forward and over its wings. Typically when this happens with young chicks, the problem does not go away. It became clear that the nest cup in which the chicks were sitting was actually a little too large. Once we made the nest cup rather narrower, the chick legs were kept in the correct position. Fortunately this approach was successful, and the chick’s legs were fine.

After a couple of weeks of hand-feeding, the chicks we noticed that they were beginning to climb out of the nesting bowl onto the floor of the brooder. Sticks were placed on the floor to promote perching. We then started feeding them mealworms with their formula and left a bowl of worms in with them to encourage them to self-feed. A couple of days later, the chicks were eating the worms on their own, from the ground, so we began to add fruit, veggies and soft bill fare. Basically, the chicks were starting to wean! They were also starting to perch on sticks and practice short flights, so we moved them to a small cage with strategically placed perches so they could essentially hop from one to another. Only a week later, the chicks were flying so well it was time to open the door and give them access to a bigger space in the Bird Propagation Center.  And they now weigh as much as their parents do! That’s about 1.75 ounces each!

While we always want the parents to raise the chicks, as that is the ideal situation, it is not always possible, so we have to take over and it is a lot of work. But when the chicks pull through and you see them grow and thrive, it is one of the best feelings in the world! The picture here is one of the chicks now. One day soon they will develop the gorgeous colors that their parents have on their feathers. Looking at the chicks now, you would have never known they had a hard start at life.
Cindy Wassing
Keeper II, Birds 

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