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Tuesday, June 28

Birds come in all different shapes, colors, sizes … and personalities. Some of our birds here at Zoo Atlanta are real characters. Getting to know different animals’ personalities is a really rewarding part of being a keeper, but it can also be extremely frustrating to work with birds who like to break the rules.

A great example of some felonious fowls is the pair of hamerkops in The Living Treehouse. It’s hard to miss the enormous hamerkop nest at the back of the aviary. The hamerkops are nothing if not industrious nest builders. They also happen to be excellent thieves. Any loose object light enough to be stolen by a hamerkop, will be stolen by a hamerkop. Anything not nailed down to the ground is fair game, as far as they’re concerned. I have retrieved scrub brushes, drain covers, maps, candy wrappers, and even a child’s hair bow from their nest. Consider yourselves warned!

Next on the list of winged rule-breakers are the pair of green woodhoopoes in The Living Treehouse. One of my teammates, Andy, designed several funnels to help keep birds inside a holding area. Birds can easily fly through them one way, but have trouble finding their way back out. This is a really useful tool for keepers to use, especially in the winter when we may need to bring birds inside overnight due to low temperatures. At least, it’s a really useful tool for the treehouse birds, except for the green woodhoopoes. Part of their natural behavior in the wild is to forage for food in small crevices by hanging upside down. They are naturally curious, and it took them approximately 2.5 seconds to figure out that they could escape back through the funnel by hanging upside down and going through. Houdini himself would have been proud of these escape artists.

Bird personalities go beyond different species exhibiting different, species-specific behaviors. Individual birds of the same species can often times exhibit strikingly different personas … including those individuals who happen be troublemakers. At the top of the troublemaker list is one of our female pied imperial pigeons, Pesto. One thing to know about Pesto: She loves her grapes. Another thing to know about Pesto: She would like her grapes now. Routinely, she decides that I am not delivering her grapes fast enough, so she makes her feelings known by landing on my head or shoulder. She often bites my hand to emphasize her point. If I do not allow her to perch on my person, she usually follows me on foot and nips at my ankles. Pesto is, in a word, persistent. Word to the wise: Don’t stand between a menace and her grapes.

Although working with some of our more mischievous birds can be extremely frustrating (to say the least), I have a confession: The birds who cause the most trouble are also my favorites to work with. They have my respect and admiration. And, if they’re a hamerkop, they probably also have my scrub brush.
Taylor Rubin
Keeper I, Birds 

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