03 January 2013

Over a hundred endangered and exotic birds are to be given a health check – but it will be no swift task for the zookeepers in charge of the annual catch-up.

An emerald dove is placed into a mug as part of a its health check

Each year keepers dedicate a day to carrying out a check on the 150 birds in their free-flying tropical house to assess their health and condition, ring each individual and DNA sex them.

To help in their task, staff use a number of special techniques including placing the birds head first into mugs and other dark containers before weighing them on sets of scales.

Chester Zoo’s Curator of Birds, Andrew Owen, said:

“Most people enjoy a mug of tea or coffee during their morning break but we’re brewing up something completely different!

“But there’s a really important and serious point to this. It’s vital we are able to take accurate biometric measurements of the birds to give us a better understanding of their biology and that includes taking a weight for each of them. To do this we carefully place each of the birds beak down into a container for a few seconds. As it’s dark inside it helps to keep the birds really nice and calm.

“We also deploy special netting techniques to help us catch the birds in the first place and it’s really important that all of our staff have a chance to get to grips with those. That’s because the very same methods are also used at our field conservation projects, so the skills picked up here are vital to those staff heading overseas to try and save certain species threatened with extinction in the wild.”

Curator of birds Andrew Owen checks on a royal starling

Over 20 different species of bird reside in the Tropical Realm including beautiful songsters like the orange-headed thrush and Brazilian tanager and conservation species such as the vulnerable-to-extinction Javan sparrow and critically endangered Blue-crowned laughingthrush.

 

Species list:

1. Crested wood partridge 2. Sunbittern 3. Nicobar pigeon 4. Emerald dove 5. Pied imperial pigeon 6. Victoria crowned pigeon7. Red-whiskered bulbul8. Asian glossy starling 9. Amethyst starling 10. Royal starling 11. Emerald starling 12. Pied starling 13. White-rumped shama 14. Orange-headed thrush 15. Blue-crowned laughingthrush: One of the rarest species we have at the zoo. They only occur in two tiny areas of China and there are thought to be less than 200 birds left in the wild. Our birds help to provide a “safety net” captive population, whilst our Chinese conservation programme helps to support researchers and conservationists in China, who are trying to save the species from extinction in the wild. 16. Pekin robin 17. Red-tailed laughing thrush 18. Red fody 19. Black-necked weaver 20. Javan sparrow 21. Pope cardinal 22. Brazilian tanager