Zoot: A Day in the Life

By Gelsey Torres

You may never get the chance to see an actual male bird-of-paradise flapping his wings to impress a female in the wild, but here at the Academy of Natural Sciences, you may come across another beautiful bird wandering the halls. Just like the birds-of­paradise, blue and gold macaws (Ara ararauna) live in the rain forest, high up in the trees. But Zoot, our blue and gold macaw, lives behind the scenes in the Academy’s Live Animal Center. What is Zoot up to these days?

Zoot enjoys a varied schedule—every day he does something different. Macaws are highly intelligent and social birds, so it’s important to provide them with ample activities and social interactions. Our keepers even have an enrichment calendar to keep track of his activities to make sure that he doesn’t get bored. On any given day Zoot can be hanging out on one of his perches and chatting with his keepers while they take care of daily tasks. Or he might be playing with one of his toys. There is no shortage of puzzles and other enrichment items to entertain him. Sometimes he gets treats, like bananas and walnuts–his favorites!

Zoot, like a lot of our education animals, can even venture into the museum. Macaws bond to a few select people, so he only goes upstairs with his favorite keepers. He likes the many sights and sounds in the different parts of the museum, especially Butterflies! Zoot even goes to “school” when he joins in on some classes and programs we offer at the museum. Who knows when you might see him, or any of our other live animals, wandering around in the museum with their handlers.

Zoot isn’t a bird-of-paradise, but there are plenty of opportunities to see birds-of-paradise in the museum this spring and summer. Known for their striking plumage and their elaborate dances to attract mates, the birds-of-paradise are only found in New Guinea, an island in the Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Although Western artists have painted from dead birds-of-paradise specimens and the people of New Guinea have used birds-of-paradise feathers in their ceremonies, few people have seen a live bird-of-paradise in all its splendor.

It was not until 2003, when a wildlife journalist teamed up with a graduate student from the University of Kansas to photograph birds­of­paradise for an article in National Geographic, that many of these bird species were caught on film. The work took the pair eight years and drove them to the most remote parts of New Guinea to capture all 39 bird-of­paradise species. These videos and photographs are on display in our new exhibit, Birds of Paradise.

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