Actually, the Houston Zoo‘s Tropical Bird House has been the happy host of a garden gnome infestation for several years now. With the recent popularity of the movie Gnomeo and Juliet, we thought it may be time to explain ourselves.
It all began around four years ago, when Bird House keepers decided to completely renovate our rehabilitated bird exhibit. An exhibit that was once entirely beach themed was transformed into a cute backyard area to display our native rehabilitated birds. It takes a massive amount of work to change an exhibit’s theme. Wheelbarrows full of sand were removed, all the walls repainted, an artificial tree was created entirely from fallen tree branches scavenged from zoo grounds, plants were added, as well as a fence, a birdbath, and many more back-breaking wheelbarrows full of new substrate (we use potting soil).
As we all know, there is a certain elation that comes with the completion of a large, difficult project. Often, this elation leads to giddiness, and in our case, goofiness. In this state, a garden gnome was the perfect addition to our beautiful new backyard exhibit.
With this innocent and quiet start, this gnome remained a one of a kind specimen in the Tropical Bird House for several years. That all changed when a new bird keeper admitted that her garden gnome collection had exceeded the space she had available. Thus, the Tropical Bird House’s Garden Gnome Troop came to be. There are now a total of eight garden gnomes skulking in our exhibits. Some are hidden away with great stealth and take some genuine searching to spot, while others are out in plain view.
This little bit of whimsy serves at least two purposes. First of all, the staff find it highly amusing, and it is so very vital to add a little mirth to your daily routine. More importantly, the gnomes have been a huge hit with the guests! They have been used in school group scavenger hunts, and the “Gnomeo!” shouts of recognition are almost as frequent as “Nemo!” in an aquarium.
As a bird keeper, I know just what amazing animals birds are. I have been working with birds for about eight years now, and I am still continuously floored by their beauty, behavior, intelligence and physical capabilities. I am also quite aware that not all of our guests feel this way about birds. Honestly, it is not easy to compete with elephants and lions for attention from our zoo guests when you are a bird that weighs less than a few coins. I am, however, convinced that the more guests learn about birds, the more they love and appreciate them.
The gnomes slow guests down as they travel through the Tropical Bird House. Once they notice that first gnome, they search for one in each exhibit. Along the way, they see some gorgeous birds that they may have missed if they weren’t on the prowl for a goofy garden decoration. It is our fun and quirky way of saying, “Slow down and take a better look!”
Next time you’re at the zoo, visit our gnome collection in the Tropical Bird House. Who knows, you may also see a few birds!