Feathered Tales: Bird Furniture

Welcome back to Feathered Tales, where we follow the lives of the birds here at Brookfield Zoo. In last month’s blog, we talked about how birds were paired for their respective breeding seasons. Now that the feathered couples are moved in together, it’s time to talk about what sort of “furniture” makes their habitat a “home.”

Having four walls around us is important for a person’s psychological well-being. But if that house was nothing but bare floors and empty rooms, it would be pretty far from the coziest place to live. Birds are much the same, in that they require places to sit, rest, and move about within their own homes. Bird “furniture” can vary greatly from species to species, but having some means of comfortably enjoying their habitat is important for every bird.

Naturally, most flighted birds perch, rather than sit, on their furniture. Instead of filling exhibits with chairs and stumps, care staff makes sure a variety of perching options are available for our flighted friends to grab onto with their feet. Animal care staff makes sure to offer differing widths of perching, especially in exhibits with greatly differing bird sizes. Without proper footing that can be easily grabbed onto, a bird can develop sores on its feet, so care staff is constantly watching bird wellness and making changes to improve the habitat. The right furniture for each customer is very important.

One example of variable “furniture” is the tropical aviary at Feathers & Scales, which is due to reopen to the public this month. Birds in this exhibit range from the saffron finch, a pretty yellow bird that could easily fit in the palm of your hand, all the way up the blue-billed curassow. In the order Galliformes alongside chickens and peafowl, these black-feathered beauties stand about three feet tall, and can often be seen wandering the guest areas of Feathers and Scales, as they are given free rein of the building during the day.

The perching habitat such as in Feathers & Scales is mostly made up of a variety of tropical plants maintained for the enjoyment of the birds. In addition to the live plants, animal care staff also uses dead branching and constructed nesting perches to accommodate the various birds within. The smaller birds like the saffron finch can use the spindly old branches in the corners of the exhibit to comfortably sit, while the larger birds like the curassow often prefer the tops of the various palm species to rest and roost for the night.

When a natural perching is not the right fit, the exhibits staff at Brookfield Zoo creates some pretty incredible structures to make each animal’s house feel like a home. Zeus and Charlie are the bald eagle pair that live at Great Bear Wilderness. Both were born in the wild but sustained wing injuries so that they were unable to hunt for themselves. Fortunately, they found a retirement spot here at the zoo, and zoo staff made sure to make their home with this in mind.

The eagles’ habitat has live plants around the outskirts, but the central focus of their home is a large concrete structure made specifically for this raptor species. The structure is designed to look like a tree to match an eagle’s usual preferred perch, but a real tree would have been difficult to maintain within the habitat and would have made it difficult to see these beautiful birds of prey during the spring and summer. The spaced branches around the structure allow for easily getting around, and guests can often see Charlie comfortably perched just overhead in its branches. Zeus, who, due to his injury, finds it a bit harder to get up high, prefers to perch on various logs and large tree branches set on the ground.

A lot of thought and care goes into each branch and structure in an enclosure to keep Brookfield’s birds healthy and happy. Once a home is set up to a bird’s liking, a newly paired couple can now move on to filling their lovely perching up with a family. Next month, we explore nesting and the incredible steps some birds take to care of their young. The journey of a bird’s life continues in September!

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

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Posted: 8/18/2021 11:07:37 AM by Sean Keeley

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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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