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Tuesday, September 27

Fall has finally arrived! With the coming of cold weather, all areas of the Zoo have to make sure that their animals have plenty of ways to keep warm. For the birds of Zoo Atlanta, that means a lot of work has to be done. Keepers have to make sure that the birds are comfortable out in their habitats, as well as when they are in their buildings for those extra-cold nights.

The first thing that we check our habitats for is drafts. The windows in the small bird buildings get covered with their Plexiglas windows. This is very important, because just as we get chilled by a cold breeze, our birds do too.

The next step is making the floor comfortable. If the building doesn’t already have a sand base, we need to cover it. So for those few buildings with concrete floors (as opposed to sand), we cover them with a layer of wood shavings. This helps those heavier ground birds like crowned pigeons that like to roost on high perches. When they fly to the ground, they don’t hurt their feet and joints.

Last, but certainly the most important, is offering heat sources. Some birds don’t need much or any additional heat because they are well adapted to cold climates, for example, azure-winged magpies and golden pheasants. Other more tropical species need significant heat to stay comfortable, especially at night. Regardless, we always provide our birds with heat so they have the option to warm up if they want to.

The main elements we use to provide heat are heat lamps, oil or space heaters and heating pads. The heat lamps are nice as they are small enough for us to mount up high, aimed at perching so that birds don’t have to come down to sit near them. In fact, most birds choose to sit on the highest perches at night because that’s where they feel most safe, so that’s where we can direct their heat.

The heaters we use are always enclosed in a cage for the safety of the birds, and help keep the entire building that is connected to the habitat warm. The heating pads we offer to ground birds that don’t go up to perch, one of which is our cassowary. His species cannot fly and spends its entire life walking around on the ground. To keep him warm, we put down a heat pad with a special mat over it and provide him with a bed of hay so he can hunker down and stay warm on a cold night. In addition, his stall is heated and we take extra care with Cecil because he’s a very old guy and needs the extra nannying!

I hope this sheds a little bit of light into the way we keepers help keep our birds warm! Stop by during the cooler months and you might just see a bird relaxing in the warm glow of a heat lamp.
Allie Clark
Keeper I, Birds 

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