From helping breed the first rhinoceros hornbill chicks at the zoo in over a decade, to spending two hours each day chopping food, a life of a Bird Keeper is interesting, varied and two days are rarely the same. Casey Povey tells us what it’s like working with all our feathered friends.
Why did you become a bird keeper?
“I’ve always loved animals and knew I wanted a practical role working with them. When I left school, I opted to do a zoology degree and thought I’d figure out where my career would take me after the course finished. Just before I graduated I applied for an internship here at the zoo and I’ve never looked back.”
Why do you like working with birds?
“Birds are beautiful, challenging and they don’t make things obvious which I like, it keeps you on your toes! They often get overlooked but there are so many beautiful species. I never tire of watching the birds interact with one another in the aviaries – they are fascinating.”
What’s been your career highlight?
“It was last year when we successfully bred the rhinoceros hornbills. This was the first time we have bred these hornbills at Chester for 13 years and it was a big team effort. When working with birds you can see the fruits of your labour quite quickly as the breeding and incubation period is relatively short for most species. However for the hornbills it took a long time to create the perfect breeding environment. Successfully breeding birds is not just about putting two birds together; there are so many factors that can influence a pairing. At the beginning of December 2008 we were really hopeful that all our efforts had paid off when the pair in Monsoon Forest were seen mating and the female started visiting her nest. But then, tragically, there was an awful fire in their habitat. Thankfully we were able to rescue them to a new area but we thought we’d have to wait another year for an egg. Then, in just a few days of us providing them with a nest barrel, the female started building a nest again and we were amazed when she laid two eggs which then hatched into two beautiful chicks. It was a real success for the whole team and for the insurance population as we’re the only zoo in the UK ever to breed them.”
What is your favourite animal?
“When I was younger we kept ferrets. I know they are not everybody’s cup of tea but they are not everybody’s cup of tea but they are so cheeky, ferocious and fun. I love them. Now I work with birds, there are lots of species I like but one of my favourites is the silver eared mesia. They are a little showy bird that I look after in the Sumatran aviary here at Chester. They are a reeky interactive bird and we have a lovely little family of them.”
Why do you like working at the zoo?
“Working for a leading conservation charity is amazing and maintaining insurance populations for many rare bird species is very rewarding. The staff at the zoo are such a lovely bunch of people and it’s a pleasure to come to work with them every day. With over 128 acres of zoo to walk around with over 35,000 animals just going about your day to day business is a pleasure”.
Casey’s daily routine…
7am: Get into work and prepare the food for the animals.
8am: As soon as it gets light we go and feed the birds and thoroughly clean their habitats, while also doing a visual check of them. I work over on islands so I ensure the Sumatran aviary is clean and ready for visitors by 10am.
10:30am: Break time which includes a nice cup of tea and a catch up with the team.
11am – 1pm: This is preparation time, so I usually spend the best part of two hours chopping a wide variety of fruit and steaming lots of veg. If there are any practical jobs to do, like fixing a perch. then I’ll do it at this point in the day.
1pm – 2pm: Lunch hour. We usually sit down as we don’t get a lot of time to do this in a day.
2pm – 4pm: More feeding and more checks. Finally, just before we go home, we do a daily report on all of the birds.