A year in the aviary
See what happens in our Aviary over the course of a year, from new baby birds hatching to keeping aviary cages neat and tidy.
With short days and potentially cold nights, we ensure that some of the more sensitive birds are using their heated indoor houses to roost. Many of the species in the Aviary are found in cooler montane regions of the tropics, and as they are all bred in captivity in Europe, they are acclimatised to the UK weather. When sub-zero temperatures are predicted, the more sensitive species from lowland forest, such as the hood pitta, will be shut inside overnight to ensure they are warm and safe.
The Aviary team will spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year getting young birds paired up, either within the collection or by transferring to other zoos in Europe, ready for the approaching breeding season. The Aviary is a member of the European Association of Zoo and Aquaria (EAZA), and many of the species are part of the EAZA ex-situ conservation breeding programmes. The Aviary team manage two of these programmes for the hooded pitta and Rothschild’s peacock-pheasant.
With the start of the breeding season, the spectacled laughingthrush will be one of the first species nest building. This species has recently been upgraded to ‘Near Threatened’ status. Before Easter, the top layer of substrate in all the aviaries is removed and replaced with fresh mix and mulch, which prevents parasites building up in the soil, and helps to maintain a healthy bird population. The whole structure of the aviary is checked for damage and the metalwork and gold leaf are carefully cleaned.
Depending on the weather, many of the birds in the Aviary will be starting courtship and nesting. The team start to encourage this behaviour by increasing live food variety, and adding nest sites and nesting material in the aviaries. Species like the collared-hill partridge and Rothschild’s peacock-pheasant will be some of the first to lay eggs.
The busiest months for the Aviary are just beginning. The critically endangered blue-crowned laughingthrush pairs will have started nest building and will often have chicks hatching. Once pairs start feeding chicks, the Aviary team will be placing live food in at regular intervals throughout the day to ensure the birds have a plentiful supply to feed their chicks.
Now in the height of the breeding season, most of the birds will be nesting, some pairs will be on their second clutch of eggs. The team will be busy ensuring pairs have enough food to feed their chicks, closely monitoring what is happening in nests, checking eggs for fertility in incubators and busy hand-rearing chicks.
Chicks being hand-reared will be fed every hour 6am to 11pm. Species such as the spectacular fairy bluebird will be hatching chicks during this month.
This is still a very busy month with the final wave of breeding. The team will discuss which species they still need to encourage to breed, and work out ways in which to achieve this. The Rothschild mynah, Waddesdon Manor’s mascot species ‘Mimi the Mynah’, which is ‘critically endangered’ in the wild, are likely to be feeding chicks.
The end of the breeding season is upon us, the majority of chicks will have fledged and be on their way to independence. With many of the pairs finished breeding for the year, they will start their annual moult, replacing worn feathers with bright new ones.
With Autumn well under way, the Aviary team gather up fallen leaves and place them into the aviaries for enrichment. The birds will spend a lot of time foraging, turning leaves looking for insects as they would in the wild.
Nest sites will be removed to ensure birds are not attempting to breed when temperatures are starting to lower. Although it is important that the aviaries are densely planted to encourage breeding and ensure the birds feel secure, the aviary plants will be carefully pruned to allow visitors to see the fantastic species’ within, and provide the birds with plenty of areas to sunbathe.
All of the aviaries inside shelters have timed lighting that dims in the evening to simulate sunset, which gives the birds an extra few hours to feed and sufficient time to roost. This is important with the cold dark night’s drawing in.