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When the early bird gets the worm, we provide the worms

Everyone has heard the saying “the early bird gets the worm,” and that holds true for the birds who call Zoo Atlanta home too. The difference is that we need to provide them with the worms! What many don’t realize is that the worms we feed out to the birds get the same quality of care every day that the birds do. They are delivered to us from the Animal Nutrition Kitchen. When they get to the kitchen they are basically of no nutritional value to our birds, especially chicks, so they go through a process called gutloading. Gutloading means exactly what you think it does: We load them up with all the nutrients that they need to be a healthy snack for our birds, and in a lot of cases, the main food item birds feed to their chicks.

What all is entailed in this process, you might ask? When the worms are delivered, they are put on a special substrate of ground pellets containing all the important nutrients the birds need. They are also offered sweet potato for moisture. The worms are kept in drawers, and just like the birds’ habitats, these drawers are cleaned, and the worms are given new substrate, climbing structures, and fresh sweet potato every day! This process is repeated for a minimum of three days before they are ready to be fed out to the birds. Basically, their guts are loaded with food and nutrients over the three days, hence the term gutloading. Baby birds need a little extra boost of nutrition, so if the worm’s final destination is a chick, it spends an extra day on a super nutrient dense food called repashy. You might have heard of this if you have reptiles at home. It’s a great source of calcium, which a growing baby bird needs to help its bones grow nice and strong.

After the gutloading process is over, the worms are ready to be fed to the birds. Mealworms tend to be a favorite snack for most of the birds here at Zoo Atlanta, and you’ll often find keepers tossing them into the habitats for them. If you happen to catch this in action, just remember it took three days of care for them to become that tasty, nutritious snack!

Monica H.
Lead Keeper, Birds

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