Birds - they make everything look easy, don’t they? Give a Scarlet Macaw an almond, and it will crack it open and devour it in mere seconds, while we are still trying to figure out in which kitchen drawer the nutcracker is hiding. A King penguin merely has to gracefully push its wings up and down and suddenly it is effortlessly thrust through the water at dizzying speeds, while we are still struggling to fit into our swimsuits. And flying? Forget about it! A rainbow lorikeet can just FALL off a perch, right itself in the air and zip around our heads with glee. And us? I don’t even want to talk about the last time I flew - let’s just say our vacation this year is going to be a road trip.
But what really gets me is they way birds make incubation look so simple. Being a mom, I got to experience firsthand the joys of outgrowing all my clothes, and dragging myself around with what felt like a basketball strapped to my waistline. But not birds - oh no. They simply make a cute little nest out of grass and feathers, pop out a few eggs, and then sit on them till they hatch out into fluffy, adorable chicks. Birds are built to do it, and they do it well. But as an Aviculturist at SeaWorld, artificial incubation of eggs is part of my job, and I can tell you from experience - for us, it’s not so simple!
The Aviculture team at SeaWorld San Antonio will artificially incubate eggs for different reasons - occasionally eggs are abandoned, cracked (we repair them with glue), or laid in potentially risky nest locations. We have hatched many different species over the years, including Chilean flamingos, Chinstrap Penguins, Swainson’s Lorikeets, Ruddy Ducks and Tufted Puffins. Proper incubation has little room for error - temperature and humidity must be set at precise parameters. Having worked with birds for over 13 years, I can honestly say that learning how to properly set up and use an incubator is one of the most challenging aspects of Aviculture.
That’s why I was so excited to attend the “Avian Egg Incubation Workshop” that was recently co-hosted by SeaWorld San Antonio and the San Antonio Zoo. This was an incredibly informative , hands-on workshop that was taught by Susie Kasilke, Curator of Birds at the Los Angeles Zoo. Ms. Kasilke has been teaching these workshops for over 18 years, and her work at refining incubation and hand-rearing techniques has been vital to the recovery of highly endangered species such as the California Condor.
This workshop, which was attended by not only SeaWorld and Zoo staff but by avian professionals from as far away as Busch Gardens Tampa and the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, gave attendees the opportunity to study egg development all the way from the day laid, up until hatching. Candling, or holding eggs up to a light to view development, was taught, as was proper incubator room sanitation, egg repair (using that glue!), hatching assistance (chicks occasionally need help getting out of their egg) and many other topics vital to a successful hatchery. In total, we spent an intense three days listening to lectures, watching demonstrations, and getting “hands on” with chicken eggs at every stage of incubation. At the end, we were presented with certificates stating that we were “Certifiable Eggsperts!”
But of course, the true “Eggsperts” are the birds. That’s why we try to keep as many eggs as possible with their parents, or even foster parents. But if an egg needs to be artificially incubated, we’re always ready - incubators are running year-round. And with the knowledge, skills and tips we received at the Avian Egg Incubation Workshop, we might just give the birds a run for their money when it comes to making incubation look easy!