Is there a visitor effect on behaviour and enclosure use of mixed bird species in a zoo enclosure?

Katie Downes



Potential visitor effects on captive animals are poorly understand, with most studies focused on non-human primates, it is an area of research which in recent years has become important as a way of understanding welfare in a captive environment. Research into how this effects birds in captivity is limited, therefore this study looks at whether visitor density effects behaviour and enclosure use in six different bird species including red-billed choughs, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax northern lapwings, Vanellus vanellus, red-crested turacos, Tauraco erythrolophus, Madagascar teal, Anas bernieri, grey gulls, Larus modestus and one Palawan peacock pheasant, Polyplectron napoleonis all housed together in a mixed species aviary at Paignton zoo Environmental Park®. Observations were carried out over a 15 day period, with each bird being observed individually and visitor density being categorised into no visitors, low, medium and high levels. Visitor noise was also measured, however no difference was found between the results of visitor noise and number. Use of space within the enclosure was analysed using the modified Spread of Participation Index (SPI) value. Values varied with all individuals, however all used the enclosure unevenly with choughs CH3, CH4, teal MT2, the Palawan peacock pheasant and the turaco pair using one or two zones predominantly more than any other area in the enclosure. Using the chi-squared test of association, a significant association between visitor number and location within the enclosure was only found in the choughs and the grey gulls and a significant association between increasing visitor density and behaviour was found in all the birds except the Madagascar teal and the Palawan peacock pheasant. There does seem to be some effect by visitors on several of the birds behaviour and their choice of locations within the enclosure, however a reliable conclusion could not be drawn due to limited data collection. More research is needed to investigate further, however this study adds to our understanding of bird welfare in captivity.

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