Building Bird Populations

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

charlene_W5_picSome say the smallest changes make all the difference. This rings true in the eyes of Ann Kuntson, a bird keeper at the Avian Propagation Center located at the San Diego Zoo. Although Ms. Kuntson’s job mainly entails working “behind-the-scenes,” she is also connected to the public. She explained that being able to help a chick emerge from its shell, grow up and eventually join the other birds in the Zoo is the most rewarding part of her job. Once birds go on exhibit, guests have the opportunity to see and observe them. Hopefully, this helps foster an appreciation for these birds that will manifest itself into a passion for conserving all species for future generations.

While interviewing Ms. Kuntson, she led my fellow interns and me into the incubation room. This is where eggs, usually pulled from a nest on exhibit, are kept until it is time for them to finally hatch. For instance, the Micronesian Kingfisher is an endangered species, making them especially important to assist during the breeding and hatching process. Bird Keepers like Ms. Kuntson will usually pull an egg from the nest if the mother bird lays more than one. This allows for the mother bird to take better care of one chick while the other is being raised by hand. This procedure of pulling eggs will lead to better survival rates for hatchlings, helping to further the ultimate goal of the APC keepers: to ensure the survival of managed care populations of specific bird species. For some species this might mean eventual release back into the wild. The chicks hatched at the Zoo not only help protect bird species like the Micronesian Kingfisher from extinction, they also increases the number of birds in managed care. The increasing population of birds in the zoos could help to educate visitors all around the world by providing an opportunity for them to marvel at the birds in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.

In addition to preserving a population, the APC’s techniques for healthy chick development also play an important role in collaboration with other zoos and conservation centers. Every chick that hatches and survives is documented. The information is then made available so the Zoo can share with other organizations around the world. By having a “network of communication” with others working in the field of avian propagation, the Zoo assists in the advancement of new and better techniques for the hatching and incubation of bird eggs. This leads to the continued growth of bird populations throughout other conservation centers.

Although caring for birds can be quite difficult, many people do not seem to be aware of this. For some people, birds might not make the best pets. While they are charming, many birds, especially parrots, can be loud. Along with the potential noise, people also do not realize how long birds live. Some macaws, a type of parrot, can live to be eighty years old. It is important for people to do a lot of research before getting birds as a pet. This why educating the public is such an important aspect of a bird keepers’ job; it not only motivates people to get out there and help, it also instills a type of appreciation and respect for all bird species.

So what can you do to help the cause? There are a number of ways the average person could help. First of all, keep your cats indoors. Domestic cats are often left to wander in and outside people’s homes. This has led to a decrease in native bird populations. You can also choose to keep trees, bushes, and native flowering plants in your backyard to provide birds with places to roost. Keeping bird baths and bird feeders clean will also help prevent the spread of disease among birds.

Bird species are often overlooked as being a species important to conserve. Birds serve an important part of many ecosystems, and without them animal communities could crumble. Allowing people to see birds in their habitat plants a seed of appreciation within them. Bird keepers, like Ms. Kuntson, play an important part in conserving bird species and are one of the reasons why birds are able to capture the hearts of people who get to see them.

Charlene, Conservation Team
Week five, Winter 2013