Week 9 – Angry Birds

No, not the mobile game, this weeks blog is about health & safety when working with the birds.  Birds aren’t dangerous I hear you cry, well guess again, we have some truly dangerous animals in our collection and this weeks blog is all about how we work with such animals to ensure we work to protect both ourselves and the birds from injury.
Generally the birds will keep out of our way but on some occasions we have to catch the birds up, or they may become aggressive around breeding season.  Prior to catching up a bird the keepers will discuss how they will catch the bird safely (minimising stress to the animal), how it may behave, who is going to do what and any equipment we may need.  Personal Protective Equipment is vital when handling some species, in some cases protective goggles may be needed, gauntlets (or gloves) are also sometimes required and sometimes even kick boards.
Birds have 3 main dangerous body parts: the beak, wings and feet.  By far and away the biggest risk to a keeper from a bird is a bite.  No birds have teeth but some of our inhabitants are armed with beaks designed to crush, spear, rip & tear.  Think about a parrot cracking open a nut and imagine that it is your finger instead!  Macaws and Cockatoos will happily crunch your finger, definitely breaking the skin and maybe even fracturing a bone.
For birds like King Penguins and Marabou Storks they have a large beak designing for spearing prey.  You do not want a peck around the face so safety goggles are an absolute must.  Smaller birds such as Magpies and Starlings make up in attitude what they lack in size, they won’t break the skin but they certainly give a good pinch.
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Macaw 1 – Alistair 0hornbill beak 006 2 - Week 9 - Angry Birds
Rob sporting safety goggles and gloves whilst handling a Ground Hornbill
Some birds are capable of giving a keeper a good slap with their wing.  Penguins are the best example but any large bird with a big wingspan can give a good bruising.  Swans are another example although it is a myth that they can break an arm with a wing slap.
Feet are another dangerous body part that some birds will use to defend themselves.  Male pheasants will jump and kick and most are armed with a spur on the back of their leg which will split the skin.  On a much more dangerous scale, Cassowaries are armed with six inch claws and being in excess of 6 foot tall, if they jump and kick out you are in trouble.  Bear in mind that they can run at speeds of close to 50kmh so there is some serious power in those legs.  They have been reported for at least one human fatality in the wild.
With our Cassowaries they have their own health and safety policy.  No member of staff is allowed in with the birds by themselves.  If we are working in the shed, then the birds are shut out and if we are in the enclosure then they are shut in.  If we do have to go in with them, a minimum of 2 staff have to be present and each most be armed with a kick board for protection.
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Our juvenile Cassowary, complete with big feet!
Some birds use their sharp claws for gripping, perching and even killing.  If we are handling an Owl or a bird of prey, then a falconers glove is essential protection from pierced skin
easter weekend 09 168 2 - Week 9 - Angry BirdsEven a Pygmy Owl has sharp claws
For parrots that are handled a lot then we will give their claws regular trims to ensure that they are not too sharp, enabling us to work with the birds whilst not being scratched
kayto 22 2 - Week 9 - Angry BirdsKayto gets a trim
The other health issue is disease.  When working with animals hygiene is very important.  We will wear disposable gloves where appropriate and constant hand washing is a must as the keepers move from aviary to aviary, handling food and coming into contact with droppings.  Some people are even allergic to birds, particularly parrots who can be quite dusty.
We also now work with Tarantulas and reptiles which lead to their own risks.  Tarantulas can bite, sting and even fire hairs in self defence.  Their venom isn’t powerful but keepers must always be alert.
That is just a small sample of health and safety, I’ll save telling you about working near water, using tools and working with machinery for another day.
This weeks main news includes the arrival of 3 Humboldt Penguins from Dudley Zoo.  The male and 2 females are currently serving a period of quarantine before going on show.  We also received a female Ross’ Snow Goose from Dudley whilst sending a male Azure Wing Magpie in the opposite direction.
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Alistair collecting a Humboldt Penguin from Dudleys Bird Team Leader Kellie (photo courtesy of Dudley)
We also have a new male Roul Roul Partridge courtesy of a private breeder.  Again he is serving quarantine before joining a female in the Glass House by the Snowy Owls.
The Green Imperial Pigeons and Fischers Lovebirds both have eggs, neither species produced fertile eggs last year.
Several of the King Penguins are now in moult, with courtship behaviour also being noted. The moult sees the bird fatten up and live off their fat reserves whilst the new feathers grow through and force the old feathers out.  We have been removing the penguins tags as they get tight where the birds fatten up.
Chloe & Myrtle the Humboldts are sitting well with their 2 eggs, sharing incubation duties.
Lots of Finches are in the nature area with Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinh, Goldfinch, Siskin & Lesser Redpoll all present in good numbers.  Green Woodpecker and Buzzard were both seen today.
Kath, our gift shop manager, celebrated 10 years of working in the gift shop.
Next week I will be blogging about bird mothers in preparation for Mothers Day.  Please get in touch with any feedback/thoughts/ideas for future blogs.

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