From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!
Hey Kelly. Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?
No problem. I work in the bird department, and I’ve been at the Zoo for almost a year. Before the Houston Zoo, I spent some time at the Minnesota Zoo, Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo, and the International Crane Foundation.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We start off with feeding all of the birds and cleaning all of the exhibits. After our morning routine, we have “rounds,” which involves the whole bird department getting together to talk about what’s happening in each separate bird section (e.g. eggs laid, medical notes, general observations). After rounds and lunch – human lunch, that is – we feed out the rest of the food – bird food, that is – to the birds. The rest of the day is pretty variable. We generally work on projects (re-perching, extra cleaning, records, etc.), and we do keeper chats. Red-crowned cranes, laughing kookaburras, and king vultures are the particular chats that I present. At the end of the day, we pull all the food, clean the dishes, and lock up until the next day when we start all over again.
Whats the most enjoyable part of your job?
I love working with a wide variety of species because it facilitates a great learning environment. I’m always observing new behaviors, different interactions, or even just researching general life histories about the birds which may be currently unfamiliar to me.
And the hardest part of your job?
Being from Wisconsin, which has more defined seasonal changes, the Texas heat has been a huge adjustment for me. I’m getting used to it, but I still have a long ways to go!
What is one thing that you would like visitors to know about being a zookeeper?
Working so closely with animals is an amazing experience, but there’s a lot more to the job than that. It’s a lot of hard work and most people do it because they are incredibly passionate about the animals with which they work.
Any good stories that you can share?
One thing that I’m really excited about is our golden-breasted starlings. We haven’t had any golden-breasted starling eggs hatch at the Houston Zoo for nearly 30 years. This summer, we’ve had 3 chicks hatch and all have fledged from the nest! They can all be found together in Birds of the World. Stop by and check them out!