A Bird Keeper’s Favorite Moments

Will the black-billed wood dove be on the move during your next Zoo visit?

Will the black-billed wood dove be on the move during your next Zoo visit?

As a bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo, there are many times throughout the month when I get to see something funny, interesting, or even amazing. Though individually these events may not be substantial enough to fill up a whole blog, I can keep adding other must-share stories until…voila. A full blog! For the first blog in this series, I have a story about a dove that doesn’t realize why she is so interesting. Then we find out what the Zoo’s barbets have been hiding. Lastly, we see that our Bird Department doesn’t just take care of the Zoo’s birds; want to see what else we’re up to?

I'm sure the bonobo was just a puzzled as I was!

I’m sure the bonobo was just a puzzled as I was!

Who “wood” have guessed?
There is a little bird exhibit between the bonobos and the African crowned eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus exhibit in the Zoo’s Lost Forest. In this exhibit lives a black-billed wood dove Turtur abyssinicus who does a perfect imitation of a statue. I have rarely seen this bird move while feeding and cleaning the enclosure. I may see her plain as day and even greet her with a “good morning,” but she refuses to break character and remains still as stone. One day, to my shock, she was walking along the ground pecking at bits of food!

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this rare event, though. A bonobo who shares a glass windowpane with the dove’s exhibit also saw the mobile bird and came over for a look. The normally shy dove looked up at me, looked over at her next-door neighbor, and went back to eating as if it were no big deal. Seemingly unable to contain his shock, the bonobo lightly tapped on the glass. The dove again looked up, turned her back to both onlookers, and continued with her meal. I wonder if the bonobo had the same thought going through his mind as I did as I walked away: “Well, you don’t see THAT every day.”

Chicks at last for our bearded barbets!

Chicks at last for our bearded barbets!

Barbets prefer to decorate their own nest
The bearded barbets Lybius dubius in the enclosure between the Scripps Aviary and the gorilla exhibit have chicks! The male and female have been mates for awhile, but they haven’t had much success when it comes to reproducing. This spring, keepers took their old nest away and gave them a palm log with only a small starter hole toward the top. The barbets were immediately curious. Letting them have free reign to burrow their way into the log, the barbets created a safe little nest for their eggs.

Maybe the bonding experience of making their own nest triggered their parenting instincts, because as of press time there are two new fledgling barbets, courtesy of the hard work put in by Mom and Dad (and maybe a few of their keepers, too!). Come check them out!

A red-shoulder hawk is saved by the Bird Team!

A red-shoulder hawk is saved by the Bird Team!

The Bird Department: Jacks of all trades
On a regular basis, the Zoo’s Bird Department is called in to save the day, or at least to save the duckling…or the hummingbird…or the sparrow. During the breeding season we usually get a couple of calls a day to help a lost mallard duckling find its mom, or to relocate a baby bird that may have left its nest a little early. In June, we got to help out a much larger feathered friend, a red-shouldered hawk Buteo lineatus! The wild hawk needed help, as it had managed to fly into an exhibit that was under construction. Though there weren’t any animals on exhibit, the netting prevented the bird from finding her way back out!

After amassing a number of bird keepers with nets of various sizes, we quietly entered the exhibit. With tall nets that can be lengthened by adding segments, we tried to net her at the top of the tall enclosure. After less than a minute, the hawk flew very low and almost into a keeper’s net! The surprised bird made a quick course correction, but she lost all her speed, stalled, and landed in the grass a few feet away.

One of our very experienced raptor handlers, Paul, acted immediately by grabbing her—with gloves on—before she could again take to the sky. We could tell that the bird was one of the young red-shouldered hawks that lived around the Zoo with her siblings and parents. Paul walked his young ward to a safe release area where, upon opening his hands, she took flight, perched high in a tree, and started to preen. I think the whole department went back to our “jobs” with smiles on our faces!

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Metallic Starlings: Showstoppers.

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