Caring For Our Avian Friends

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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!

Interns took a trip to the Aviation Propagation Center (APC) at the San Diego Zoo, where we met with Jessica Theule, a Senior Keeper who has worked there for seven years. She gave us a tour of the facility and showed us the incubation and training room, and also some of the exhibits where the birds live. We learned a lot about the process a bird will go through here, from incubation, to hatching, and to training. The entire experience was breathtaking and I learned an incredible amount about ornithology, or the study of birds.

The APC is where the Zoo raises some of their birds. They also deal with the incubation of eggs and the necropsy of eggs that fail to hatch. A necropsy is an autopsy performed on a member of another species.

The APC is where the Zoo raises some of their birds. They also deal with the incubation of eggs and the necropsy of eggs that fail to hatch. A necropsy is an autopsy performed on a member of another species.

Mrs. Theule showed us one of the oldest incubators at the APC, which has been here for decades. They even incubated the first captive California condor eggs in one of these incubators. These have a very interesting cooling mechanism, using a piece of wood that circles around the containers, fanning to keep the eggs at a certain temperature. The eggs must be kept at a certain temperature to survive.

Mrs. Theule showed us one of the oldest incubators at the APC, which has been here for decades. They even incubated the first captive California condor egg in one of these incubators. These have a very interesting cooling mechanism, using a piece of wood that circles around the containers, fanning to keep the eggs at a certain temperature. The eggs must be kept at a certain temperature to survive.

This is one of the Grumbachs, a more modern incubator that the Zoo uses. They are much easier to operate. The Grumbach will turn the egg over by itself by slowly sliding the tray. Each of the nine Grumbachs work at a different temperature for certain eggs. Larger eggs rest at a lower temperature and smaller eggs rest at a higher temperature.

This is one of the Grumbachs, a more modern incubator that the Zoo uses. They are much easier to operate. The Grumbach will turn the egg over by itself by slowly sliding the tray. Each of the nine Grumbachs work at a different temperature for certain eggs. Larger eggs rest at a lower temperature and smaller eggs rest at a higher temperature.

Record keeping is a huge part of Mrs. Theule’s job. Keepers at the APC must input data into their spreadsheets daily. They have to input incubation temperatures, success rates, amount of eggs laid, weight of the eggs, and who the parents are. She also told us that math is an enormous part of her job, but luckily Excel can help with some of the more complex formulas.

Record keeping is a huge part of Mrs. Theule’s job. Keepers at the APC must input data into their spreadsheets daily. They have to input incubation temperatures, success rates, amount of eggs laid, weight of the eggs, and who the parents are. She also told us that math is an enormous part of her job, but luckily Excel can help with some of the more complex formulas.

The training room is where they keep birds as they raise, train, and care for them. Unlike other Avian Propagation Centers, the Zoo has the benefit of working with a vast variety of birds, rather than only focusing on a few species. All the enclosures on the left allow the birds the freedom to be inside or outside, by using a doggy door (or birdy door).

The training room is where they keep birds as they raise, train, and care for them. Unlike other Avian Propagation Centers, the Zoo has the benefit of working with a vast variety of birds, rather than only focusing on a few species. All the enclosures on the left allow the birds the freedom to be inside or outside, by using a doggy door (or birdy door).

Luckily for us there happened to be a baby bird in one of the enclosures. This is a sociable weaver that unfortunately fell out of its nest as an egg, so the APC is taking care of it in their training room to ensure its safety.

Luckily for us there happened to be a baby bird in one of the enclosures. This is a sociable weaver that unfortunately fell out of its nest as an egg, so the APC is taking care of it in their training room to ensure its safety.

Here in my hand is a dummy egg. I know it looks real, but that’s on purpose. I could throw it on the ground and it would just bounce right back up because it is made out of resin. This fake egg is put under a female bird to keep them from laying more eggs. A bird will keep laying eggs even if it has no male to mate with, just a like a chicken. To counteract this problem, the keepers put this under the birds and around their enclosures so that they don’t lay too many eggs.

Here in my hand is a dummy egg. I know it looks real, but that’s on purpose. I could throw it on the ground and it would just bounce right back up because it is made out of resin. This fake egg is put under a female bird to keep them from laying more eggs. A bird will keep laying eggs even if it has no male to mate with, just a like a chicken. To counteract this problem, the keepers put this under the birds and around their enclosures so that they don’t lay too many eggs.

Here Mrs. Theule is wearing a “ghost.” A ghost is a camouflage outfit the keepers use to prevent the birds from imprinting on them. A bird that imprints on a human is more than likely to associate with them because they believe they are either friendly or their parent. The Zoo wants them to be raised like they would be in nature, unless they are specifically training the birds to be friendly to humans for educational purposes. If they do happen to be training them like this, the keepers get to interact with the birds without wearing a ghost.

Here Mrs. Theule is wearing a “ghost.” A ghost is a camouflage outfit the keepers use to prevent the birds from imprinting on them. A bird that imprints on a human is more than likely to associate with them because they believe they are either friendly or their parent. The Zoo wants them to be raised like they would be in nature, unless they are specifically training the birds to be friendly to humans for educational purposes. If they do happen to be training them like this, the keepers get to interact with the birds without wearing a ghost.

This is the fridge where the APC stores a lot of their unhatched eggs. These eggs are preserved to show other keepers from around the world, examples of what can happen to eggs. We learned that sometimes if a bird has not hatched then the keepers will open an egg by pipping it. A pip is an opening that the bird makes to get out of the egg to help it hatch.

This is the fridge where the APC stores a lot of their unhatched eggs. These are preserved to show other keepers from around the world, examples of what can happen to eggs. We learned that sometimes if a bird has not hatched then the keepers will open an egg by pipping it. A pip is an opening that the bird makes to get out of the egg to help it hatch.

These enclosures are connected to the training room through the “birdy” door so birds can get outside. The enclosures have foliage and perching structures to simulate them and give the birds a natural setting. This is usually the final step for birds in the APC. After this, they will either go into an exhibit at the Zoo or another zoo. I am ecstatic that I was able to see the whole process that they go through before they leave. Mrs. Theule showed me how much the keepers at the APC really care for the birds there.

These enclosures are connected to the training room through the “birdy” door so birds can get outside. The enclosures have foliage and perching structures to simulate them and give the birds a natural setting. This is usually the final step for birds in the APC. After this, they will either go into an exhibit at the Zoo or another zoo. I am ecstatic that I was able to see the whole process that they go through before they leave. Mrs. Theule showed me how much the keepers at the APC really care for the birds there.

Alon, Photography Team
Fall Session 2014

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