Published: Jun 30, 2017My name is Jenny, and I’m a bird keeper at Newquay Zoo. I’ve been working at the zoo for around three years, and it’s this time of the year that I’ve come to love the most.
My name is Jenny, and I’m a bird keeper at Newquay Zoo. I’ve been working at the zoo for around three years, and it’s this time of the year that I’ve come to love the most.
We are currently in the middle of the breeding season on the bird section, and it’s definitely the busiest and most tiring time of year, but also for me, the most exciting and enjoyable. Establishing a compatible pair of birds, fulfilling all their requirements so that they are able to breed successfully, and watching the young develop, is the part of the job I find most rewarding.
Sometimes the decision is made to hand-rear the chicks rather than to leave them with the parents. This can be for a number of reasons. Here at Newquay we keep a number of species which are under threat in the wild, and therefore a sustainable captive population is incredibly important. We also remove the eggs or chicks if there is parental neglect. Hand-rearing in many cases can increase the productivity of a pair of birds, as it can encourage them to double clutch, therefore producing twice the amount of offspring in one season. At Newquay we hand-rear a variety of different species; we take precautions not to imprint these individuals, and so when they are fully weaned, we are able to integrate them back into an aviary, enabling them to become viable breeding birds, which in turn will benefit the captive population in the future.
At present, in our rearing-room at the zoo, we have a number of chicks that are being hand-reared. These include two Sumatran laughing thrush (Garrulax bicolor), a species which is under threat in the wild from the cage bird trade, an epidemic which is currently taking an unsustainable toll on many passerine species throughout South East Asia; a Luzon bleeding heart dove (Gallicolumba luzonica), three black-necked stilts (Himantopus himatopus mexicanus) and our most recent additions, two collared finch bills (Spizixos semitorques). In the incubator we also have several eggs, a Pekin robin (Leiothrix lutea), spotted laughing thrush (Garrulax ocellatus), collared hill partridge (Arborophila gingica), more Sumatran laughing thrush and red-billed whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis).
The way you rear these birds varies depending on the species. The altricial chicks (those that hatch undeveloped, eyes closed and without any feathers) require a lot of care. Most of the altricial species at Newquay are softbills, eating fruit and insects as adults, and so the chicks are reared on a mixture of day old pinkie mice and papaya mashed into a fine paste. The chicks start off being fed every hour from early in the morning till late at night.
We also rear various precocial species. These chicks hatch relatively well developed and are able to walk within hours of emerging from the egg and feed themselves, although they still need to be kept warm. These are species such as the black-necked stilt and the red-billed whistling ducks.
This is my fourth breeding season at the zoo. I feel very privileged to be able to work with such a range of great species, and gain such valuable husbandry expertise. I hope in the future to be able to apply the skills I learn in the zoo to in-situ conservation. There are a number of species that are around today only because of hand-rearing.
Jenny Lea, bird keeper