Last time we took a look at some of the fine foods available to those who keep softbills and lories as pets (Please see Alternative Bird Foods – Yesterday and Today, Part I). I mentioned that these products have greatly simplified the captive husbandry of a number of species, and alluded to the difficulties involved in preparing certain diets from scratch.
Today I’d like to recount what it was like to be a bird keeper assigned to prepare food for the huge collection of insectivorous birds at New York City’s Bronx Zoo.
Birds and Bird Keepers Must Eat Early
I rose at 3:20 AM (despite the dreadful hour, I awoke hungry and so allowed time for feeding myself before even thinking about birds of any sort!), and arrived at the zoo by 5:15 AM or so. The walk from my car to the World of Birds took me along the Bronx River, and my arrival at the door was often delayed by the parade of creatures out and about at that time – perhaps a family of striped skunks, or any of the 265+ bird species recorded nearby.
Cooking and Mixing
The first order of business was cooking 80 pounds of horsemeat which, I must admit, smelled quite sweet and roused me to hunger once again. I also hard-boiled 60 dozen eggs, which were then ground (with the shells) and, along with vitamin and mineral supplements, mixed with the meat.
Diets for individual exhibits and birds were posted over the mixing table, on a board that measured about 18′ x 3′. Individual ingredients were then added to the pans, as per the needs of the various species – mealworms, newly molted mealworms, blueberries, mixed fruits, chopped vegetables and innumerable other ingredients all had a place.
Delivering the Food
We kept a great many mixed species exhibits, so food pan placement was of paramount importance. Some pans went to areas accessible only to tiny birds; others went in wire cages that functioned as traps, allowing the keepers to capture birds needing attention, while many were positioned so as to afford the public a good view of the feeding birds.
Without carful attention to such details, birds in large exhibits often become malnourished. Oddly enough, the most dominant individuals often fare the worst, as they select only favored treats, such as mealworms and crickets…leaving the others to consume the more nutritious basic diet.
An Array of Other Foods
Diets for specialized feeders – nectar for hummingbirds and sunbirds, nuts and fruits for cassowaries, fish for bald eagles, mash for flamingos, rodents and insects for burrowing owls, and so forth – came next…more about that in the future.
Please check out my other articles on bird nutrition:
Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.
An interesting perspective on feeding birds and other animals at Australia’s Taronga Park Zoo is posted at: