Aviculture Behind the Scenes: Traveling with Birds

Our Kea Bachelorette couple is off to their new home at the Sedgwick County Zoo! We asked our Curator of Exhibit Collections, Kate, to document the trip so we could get a behind the scenes look at what Aviculture and Zoo Keeping looks like amidst the "new normal". Take a look! 


...And They're Off!!!

Ever wonder how birds get to and from zoos from all over the country? They fly!  No, this isn’t a sad attempt of a “dad joke”. But really most of the birds we receive and send to other facilities arrive on a plane.  Planning these transports can begin a year in advance, where zoo staff look at seasonal temperatures, quarantine space, and perform health exams to ensure the birds are safe to travel.  Travel crates are prepared with the safety and comfort of the individual in mind, including favorite “inflight snacks”, water, and favorite toys (our Kea, Gonzo prefers travelling with whiffle balls).


With airlines unable to accommodate animal shipments due to Covid 19 restrictions, we have had to adjust our plans by relying completely on ground transportation or in other words, Road Trip!  I had the pleasure of meeting Sedgwick County Zoo staff in the parking lot of Denver Zoo where we delivered the two Kea Bachelorette stars, Arthur and Ikaroa. It was a half way point for us, giving us the ability to limit the amount of travel time for birds while also complying with social distancing recommendations.



Ikaroa and Arthur loaded into the car, we planned the trip to leave in the evening at a time when the birds are less active and preparing to sleep.


Throughout the drive, we had snacks on hand to give to the kea.  Grapes were their favorite but they also loved throwing the toys around their crates.



Note the zip-tie in the upper corner, Kea can be escape artists so this was a safety measure so we didn’t have any unplanned kea adventures while the humans were taking a bathroom break! 


Arthur thought sleeping was a terrible idea and played almost the entire trip! Yes, even kindergarteners can’t keep up with Kea!


Kennedy “I shouldn’t have let my guard down, Arthur bit my hair!”


When traveling by plane we typically have to “double crate” a Kea, just to ensure they don’t escape their crates during travel.  Kea are very intelligent, curious birds. With this road-trip, it was a bit longer travel time but we were able to provide treats and enrichment throughout the long trip.  My husband also likes to think his playlist was well received by the Kea.


Ikaroa enjoyed her “care package” that her keeper Shaunna put together.  The streamers were a fun distraction from Arthur making a mess of things in the neighboring crate.


We limited our travel exposure by eating in the car, and making the trip in 24 hours. My family has always been included in the Aviary in some way or another, this time around my husband helped with driving and my daughter entertained the Kea.


Junior Zookeeper, Kennedy!


It is always hard saying bye to our birds when we transport them, and this time around it was especially hard for a 6 year old to say bye to her new road trip friends.  But Sedgwick County Zoo has a wonderful group of bird nerds and we know these two Kea will fit in just great with their new caretakers.



While doing a socially distanced exchange in the parking lot, Sedgwick also brought us 4 red-shovelers, 2 nicobar pigeons, a black-naped fruit dove, and a cape thick-knee to bring back to the Aviary.  Yes, the rental car smelled like a traveling zoo but we gained some new road-trip buddies that we will get to visit at the Aviary!

Whether traveling by plane or car, we typically cover the windows of the crates just to give a bit more privacy for the birds.  Kea, were different because they like to see out and interact with the people around them. These birds preferred a quieter, less interactive ride back.


Definitely a car full of birds, a little bit of Tetris skills had to be used, or we would have had to leave the kid behind!


Birds are transported between zoos for different reasons but the primary reason centers around the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP is responsible for making pairing, breeding, and exhibiting recommendations that fall in line with the overall sustainability of the species.  Many of these SSP’s represent endangered species in need of continued breeding recommendations.  The Kea SSP recommended that we move Ikaroa and Arthur once we saw consistent behaviors that indicated they were a mated pair. See #keabachelorette for the juicy details!


Kea are classified as Endangered through the IUCN Redlist.  


Tracy Aviary’s Expedition Kea exhibit has a very specific role within the SSP.  The exhibit stands as a mate choice exhibit where young kea come to find a mate.  We can follow the best genetic recommendations through the SSP but if animals don’t like each other, the chances of them raising chicks are pretty slim.  Once paired, the SSP recommends the pair move to a different facility.  Why doesn’t Tracy Aviary just hatch out adorable kea in the exhibit? Often Kea can get pretty protective of their nests which can put the other Kea at risk, so moving to an exhibit where they can have a bit more privacy will ensure they have the space to raise a family while also allowing the rest of the youngsters to find mates as well.  So stay tuned for more drama every Friday, #keabachelorette


How could any girl (Kea) resist this?


Birds and humans arrived safe and sound. They will remain in quarantine for 30 days where keeper staff and veterinarians can keep an eye on them to ensure they are doing well. We look forward to hearing about Ikaroa and Arthur’s adventures at Sedgwick County Zoo and meanwhile we will continue to be entertained by our kea flock- Gonzo, Scarlet, Newton and Steve Austin. Be sure to visit Expedition Kea, Destination Argentina, and Treasures of the Rainforest where you will get to see all of the birds that rode home with us! 


Red shovelers enjoying their pond in quarantine at the Aviary


It was a long drive but as always, I am grateful for the memories made during these unique trips.  And even more grateful that we can continue to share in our adventures here at Tracy Aviary with all of you. 

Why did the bird get a ticket? It broke the law of gravity!



- Kate Lyngle-Cowand, Curator of Exhibit Collections