Tuesday, May 3
Warmer weather and the official arrival of spring means one major thing here in the Bird Department: mating season! But before any of this can happen, mates need to be chosen. Since it is generally the female’s choice, it’s up to the males to strut their stuff and show off how fit they are. Birds have some of the coolest and most ridiculous courtship displays and behaviors of anyone in the animal kingdom (check out the Bird-of-Paradise family if you ever doubt this), and the birds at Zoo Atlanta are no exception.
One of the biggest – literally — displays you can see here is from our male kori bustard, Snake. Throughout the day you can find him booming and showing off to our female Tuza. He puts a little hop in his step, flips up his tail feathers, inflates his neck to basketball size, and makes a deep booming noise that sounds like a bass drum. He’s showing off just how impressive he is and letting her know where he is and that she should come over. We keepers certainly think he’s handsome, and Tuza seems to be impressed as well. In fact, we have two chicks from them this year!
The Living Treehouse is also full of courting birds right now. You can see the speckled pigeons on the boardwalk puffing up their neck feathers and talking to each other, the white-headed buffalo weaver spreading out his wings to show off the white and orange patches on them, the woodhoopoes hanging upside down and rocking on branches while chattering to each other, and the hamerkops “stacking” and vocalizing. All of this is in addition to the normal craziness already happening in there.
Out and about the Zoo you can also see some pretty neat behaviors. To show off for his female (and sometimes his favorite keeper), our Victoria crowned pigeon bobs his head and tail in unison, almost like the old drinking bird toy, and vocalizes in a surprisingly deep manner. In that same habitat, you can see both the pied pigeon and the Bali mynah bobbing up and down and vocalizing for their ladies. My personal favorite to watch are our blue cranes. Their courtship involves a “dance,” where the male chases the female and they run in circles while he flaps his wings, jumps, bows, and vocalizes. It is quite a sight to behold.
Sometimes our keepers also get special treatment. When any keeper enters the aviary in Living Treehouse they can count on Blue, our golden pheasant, to be circling their feet and displaying for them. Anytime you stop, he immediately turns sideways and flattens out his body and tail so all of his colors are on full display. If you hold still long enough, he will ruffle his feathers for you and literally vibrate. We also receive similar treatment from our Argus pheasant, Farkus. As soon as he sees a keeper approaching the exhibit, he begins stomping. Once we enter he will begin circling, periodically vocalizing and sprinting around us. The real treat comes when we stop moving. He will fan out his feathers in a giant circle and rustle them at us. Of course, all of this goes out the window if you decide to wear a hat that day. Farkus is not a fan of hats.
As you can see, there is lots of wooing happening in the Bird Department right now. Hopefully now that you know what to look for, the next time you’re at the Zoo you can take a moment to watch all of the amazing courtship behaviors going on all around you!
Keeper I, Birds and Program Animals