Feathered Tales: Settling Into a New Home

Welcome to Feathered Tales! In this monthly blog, we explore the day-to-day lives of the wonderful birds that live here at Brookfield Zoo. Last month, we saw how bird individuals are suited up with individual ‘bling’ to set them apart from the crowd. Now, we take the big plunge, and talk about the all-important first few days in a new and exciting place!

First days can be both thrilling and quite busy for people and birds alike. It can be difficult figuring out how a new place operates and meeting and getting along with new acquaintances. But just as a teacher might introduce a new student to a classroom, so does the animal care staff take steps to make sure a new bird friend is set up for success in a new home.

Introductions tend to be a step-by-step process. If a bird was merely let out into its new home without any help, numerous issues tend to arise. The newcomer might have trouble finding out where its food can now be located. Many bird species can be territorial as well, and a loner is an easy target for bullying. Easing a bird into its new home, both the newcomer and their soon-to-be neighbors. Often, care specialists will utilize extra, adjacent holding areas for introduction purposes. For example, in The Swamp, one can see small doors that lead to off-enclosure areas behind our aviaries. In the case of the flock of white and scarlet ibis that call The Swamp home, a majority of their daily diet of capelin and lake smelt is offered to them from these rooms.

Two new scarlet ibises are currently in quarantine patiently awaiting their release into this enclosure later this month. When that date finally comes, the two ibises will first spend a few days in this off-enclosure area, initially closed off from the majority of their new roommates. One or two established birds will be brought in to spend this time holding with the fresh faces. This has two benefits: to first allow the new birds a chance to get used to the area where they will be finding their food most of the time, and to give everyone a bit of a sneak peek of each other. A chance to say hello and have a few friends to show the newbies the ropes keeps everyone from getting surprised by the presence of new initiates.

After this initial trial period, the doors are finally opened up and new birds can mingle with the enclosure as a whole for the first time. The introduction process is still far from over, however. Animal care staff is present for these first critical moments, watching for any initial signs of any issues. The first few days, detailed observation allows care staff to confirm everything has smoothly set into place, and the new bird is thriving in his or her new home.

Despite the careful consideration that goes towards introduction, challenges often throw plans for a loop. Our feathered friends, when unsure of a newcomer, can get feisty. Birds chasing, displacing, or vocalizing unusually can all be signs that there may be some trouble in a new paradise. When none of this is directly witnessed, a new bird sitting low to the ground or suddenly missing feathers can be signs that someone in the flock isn’t being a friendly new neighbor. In these cases, the best method is to reset and alter the approach with some slight tweaks. A bird might require a bit more time in an adjacent holding area. If a particularly overzealous bird can be identified, that bird gets a brief time-out, moved off exhibit itself to allow the new bird the chance to get themselves situated. After a week or two of getting comfortable, the reintroduction of the veteran tends to go much smoother.

Once comfortably acclimated, birds are usually quick to enjoying the finer perks of their new homes. And for many of our birds, finding a special someone to spend time with takes their top priority. Next month, love is in the air as we see what coupling up is like here at Brookfield Zoo. Our birdy journey is just heating up. See you next time!

- Written by Alex Kirkeeng, Animal Care Specialist, Bird Department

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Posted: 7/8/2021 10:57:15 AM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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