Zoo Watch: Liz Brown - Presenter of the ‘Birds of the World’ demonstration at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Liz Brown presenting the Birds of the World demonstration at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Liz Brown presenting the Birds of the World demonstration at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. - Credit: Archant

Zoo keeper Liz Brown, who has worked in zoos for 10 years, explains her role at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and how she helps create spectacular bird demonstrations.

Some days, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo seems to have its own microclimate. It can be raining in Dunstable and snowing at the zoo!

Many of the birds that fly in the Birds of the World demonstration rest up in their warm aviaries during the coldest winter months. As spring approaches, we have the task of working with the birds to gradually build up their stamina again - a challenge which is starting now!

We currently have over 35 birds that fly in our demonstrations, from eagles and falcons to parrots...even ducks! We begin the year spending as much time with the birds as we possibly can, feeding them, sitting with them, sometimes even walking them around the Zoo for a bit, so they get used to seeing the other animals and visitors again.

We start gently. Once the birds are confident with their surroundings again, and have built up some stamina, they fly freely.

My heart almost stops every time I fly a bird in the open for the first time that year, but it is incredible seeing them launch off, and so exhilarating when they return! Even more so when you are working with a young or new bird that has just been trained for the very first time.

Six macaws flying around the sky, accompanied by seven white-faced whistling ducks and an Amazon parrot, is a sight that should not be missed – trust me. It’s a spectacle that still gives all of us keepers goosebumps.

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Each time our beautiful birds fly, we wait for them to fly a little longer, or a little higher than the time before, to help them build further fitness. Then we use something called a ‘bridge’ to call the birds back in. A ‘bridge’ is an action or sound that is used to ‘bridge’ the gap between the behaviour (coming back) and reward.

We have a lanner falcon who can fly over 3000ft high, but when he sees or hears his bridge, he understands that when he lands, he will get a reward. The parrots love a whole walnut as a reward, whereas the birds of prey prefer a juicy piece of chicken.

These training techniques help us and our birds achieve the spectacular demonstrations that you may have seen at the Zoo.

All the behaviours that our birds demonstrate in the Birds of the World show are natural behaviours for each species, and watching them demonstrate them is truly amazing. But we are not done yet!

Every year we try to improve the demonstrations and add new birds, so you can always expect something new whenever you come and see us.