Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Rookie Class of 2015

The arrival of summer at the World Bird Sanctuary can mean only one thing--zoo shows are here!  And by Zoo Shows I of course mean those educational and entertaining programs WBS staff and birds present at zoos around the nation.

With every new zoo show season we have a new class of rookies ready to make their mark.  This year is an especially large graduating class so to speak, because not only do we have brand new birds, but an old pro that has come out of retirement.

Zeus, a young Golden Eagle is one of our new fliers (photo: Gay Schroer)

This year we have one rookie flyer at our Stone Zoo show and five at the Milwaukee County Zoo, plus one returning flyer after a six year vacation.  It is always exciting teaching new birds to fly.  Most new flyers do what I like to call “prong horning,” where they hop straight up into the air and then make a horizontal flight.  This is very common the first several times they take off until they learn how to better control their flights.  Many new fliers also overshoot their landing spots, since they have not yet learned how to apply their brakes or to properly calculate distance.  Discerning the distance to and from a perch and other objects is a skill that birds obtain through practice.

When we first started practicing Zeus our Golden Eagle he would fly away from his stumps if they appeared to be too close to the bleachers.  We moved the stumps and over several days and flying sessions we gradually pushed them back to their original positions.  Now Zeus loves his stumps wherever we place them on stage.

 Technically this is Evita's debut year (photo: Flannery O'brien)

 Even birds that don’t do a whole lot of flying, like Evita the Red-legged Seriema, have to start out slow so that they can get used to new situations.  Technically Evita was in two shows at the very end of the season last year, but this year is her big debut season.  We started out slowly, gradually leading her closer and closer to the stage.  Her first time on the stage she wandered around for five minutes exploring everything the theater had to offer.  After carefully checking out all three sets of bleachers she was ready to exit and hasn’t really wandered since.

The key with rookies is to start small, get the birds used to the behavior or pattern first and then transition it to the theater.  The audience must be built up gradually until they are used to people.  They often need time to check out their new surroundings, either by wandering or sitting on a high perch and just scoping out the area.  Giving a bird time to do this is very important because it makes them feel safe.  They learn the surrounding area, determine that there are no predators and make a mental map so they can get back in case they ever leave the theater.

Chique the Blue-fronted Amazon parrot (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Sherlock an African Pied Crow is currently practicing his recycling routine in his enclosure, but soon we will be able to practice him in the theater.  Chique (a Blue-fronted Amazon parrot) is just starting to do her vocal cues on the hand rather than in her cage.  Once she is comfortable on the hand, she will also move to the stage. 

Azizi the White-bellied Stork rounds out our rookie line-up (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

Our last MCZ rookie is Azizi the White-bellied Stork.  He is learning to follow us, and our trail of meat, wherever we go.  This includes short walks outside of both his indoor and outdoor enclosures.

Skinner the Turkey Vulture is our returning veteran (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

The returning champion is Skinner the Turkey Vulture, who has already proved he is an excellent homing vulture.

Every new zoo show season means a new crop of rookies. Be sure to visit the Milwaukee County Zoo this summer and see Zeus, Azizi, Evita, Sherlock, Chique and Skinner. Also be sure to pay a visit to Roderigo the Common Buzzard up in Boston. Come see all of their hard work pay off.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

No comments: