Birds in the Monkey House


It happens without fail at least three times a week, and sometimes several times a day; I will be straddling the guard-rail, setting out little pans of soaked dog food, chopped fruit and finch seed several feet from the 28 foot deep moat that separates aloof gorillas from their human admirers. One of the latter will ask me, "You mean they come all the way up here to get that food?"

"Excuse me?" I reply.

"Them monkeys - they come up here to eat that?"

"This is bird food ... "

"Oh! There's birds in here?"
Yes. There are birds in here. At least 75 specimens of 18 species. I cannot be more precise, despite the best efforts of myself, our Curator, our Assistant Curator, my supervising Keeper III, and my relief Keeper I, variously armed with binoculars, logsheets, pens and pencils, in combinations thereof, or as individuals. All the birds are banded, and most with pretty "day-glow" plastic rings. This is often, however, not an apparent fact, while one is attempting to determine exactly which seven of the 17 Orangecheeked Waxbills released in this building over a year ago are the ones just now jostling each other over a spray of millet. The same dilemma applies to the African Silverbills of which 22 were liberated, and even the Black-winged Bishops, only seven introduced here, but whose shyness mostly precludes a clear look at their bands.

The heptagonal glass roof of the World of Primates (W.o.P.) towers 38 feet above the moated plateau where gorillas roam, and encloses 8,400 square feet of tropical verdure dominated by three waterfalls, recirculating

between them more than 5,500 gallons of water every hour, day and night. This incessant roar is a perpetual reminder that the World of Primates was not designed for birds. The plans for this building were drafted, and construction proceeded, untroubled by a Bird Department patiently waiting for a new Bird House to replace the internationally famous (Hahn, 1976; Jones, 1968) if small one that burnt in December of 1983.

In 1991, however, less than a year before the opening of the World of Primates, Christopher Brown became Curator of Birds and decided at once that eight years without an indoor exhibit of birds at the Fort Worth Zoo were quite enough. Of course, plans continue apace for a Bird House we expect to be the epitome of good husbandry, beauty and intelligent presentation, but, for now, the "W.o.P." keeps us in practice - and our public has the opportunity to acquaint themselves with some marvelous birds.

The breath-taking array of tropical plants that pervade the World of Primates might seem, on the face of it, to provide perfect conditions for birds. As it happens, they impose limitations on what may be kept, and its potential for successful propagation. As will be seen, the lush "living wall" rising towards the ceiling from the border of the visitor's path presents special problems.

As is only to be expected, the horticultural staff is fiercely protective of its plants, a situation complicated by the fact that there are two wholly separate crews: members of the Fort Worth Zoological Park's Department of Environmental Planning, and employees of a contracted firm that otherwise manages the plants in industrial parks, malls, and other commercial settings.
Both teams are ultimately under the supervision of Kenny Sims, our longsuffering Director of Environmental Planning. Kenny had already put a great deal of effort and expense into creating a tropical forest in the building when he discovered that the Bird People were going to turn things loose in the middle of it all, and initially regarded our activities with a degree of guarded suspicion.

To mollify the concerns of our plant staff, the initial concession was made, to the effect that nothing much larger than a Golden-breasted Starling would be liberated in the "W.o.P." (When our then-Director, Elvie Turner, authorized the inclusion of birds, he stipulated that his favorite species, the Golden-breast, be among the elect.) The largest birds in this building are a pair of Hottentot Teal (Anas hottentota) and a Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus), which, though all full-winged, usually confine themselves to the shore of the creek that covers the bottom of the moat. Otherwise, the "big" birds are a Golden-breasted or Royal Starling (Cosmopsarus regius), the most popular bird with the majority of "W.o.P." visitors, a Javan Black-winged Starling (Sturnus m. melanopterus), the one bird in this exhibit which also lived in the old bird house, hatching there in 1983, the year it burnt, a pair of Fairy Bluebirds (Irena puella), and an East Kenyan D'Arnaud's Barbet (Trachyphonus darnaudii boebmi), hatched at the Denver Zoo, for which we have found no unrelated stock of that particular subspecies. (The inclusion of Asian birds in a building dominated by gorillas is justified by the presence of an Orangutan family, displayed behind glass, along the visitor's path, and more Orangs and alternating White-handed and White-cheeked Gibbons in moated enclosures outside.)

It is in the exhibition of smaller birds that we have left the more traveled paths...


Coles, D. 0987) First breeding records for birds reared to independence under controlled conditions in the United Kingdom. (Published by the author).

Coupe, M.F. 0965) Notes on some of the birds bred at Chester Zoo during 1964. Ibid. LXXI, 30-31.

Delacour, J.T. (1923) Breeding of the Blackwinged Grackle (Graculipica melanoptera). Auicultural Magazine. (Series V)I, 175-177.

Halm, E. 0967) Animal Gardens. Doubleday. Jones, M.L. (1968) North American Zoological Gardens and Parks. in Kirchshofer, R. 0968) The world of zoos, 225-230.

Lindholm, J.H. 0993) Focus on African Finches:

TI1e Fire-fronted Bishop (Euplectes diadematus), AFA WatchbirdXX (No. 4), 35-38.

Mosier, D. 0994) African Silverbills. Ibid. XX! (No. 1), 4-7.

Newman, K. 0984) Newman's birds of southern Africa. Macmillan South Africa.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1993) Facts: Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992. AFA WatchbirdXX (No. 5), 56.

Zoological Society of London CI 969-91) Species of birds bred in zoos and other institutions 1967-1989. International Zoo Yearbook IX-XXXI.e