At the Houston Zoo, one of the unique difficulties managing birds in the Tropical Bird House comes from our glass-fronted exhibits. While they are fantastic for the guest experience, glass is not something birds ‘get’ without a little help from their keepers.
Every time we introduce a new bird to an exhibit, we soap the exhibit window. This simply means we go out to the front of the exhibit with a bowl of water, some bars of Dial soap, and we smear the soap over the window until it becomes opaque.
Guests can still see into the exhibit, and the new birds can learn exactly where that glass is. After a week or so, we remove the soap.
This also varies depending on what type of bird we are introducing or moving. Doves aren’t known for their mental acuity, so any time we move a dove into an exhibit, even if it was just out of the exhibit for a couple days, we soap the windows. Starlings and corvids, on the other hand, learn the boundaries of their exhibit a little faster.
I have worked in the Tropical Bird House for about six years now, and although we have signs that explain why the windows are so foggy, I have heard some wonderful explanations from guests for the cloudy windows:
1. ”It’s condensation on the window.” This is the most common explanation I overhear. It is very humid in the Bird House, because tropical birds really dig humidity, so this is probably the most valid guess.
2. “Someone rubbed ice cream cones all over the window”. It could happen.
3. “There are better ways to clean a window than that!” It really would be a labor intensive way to clean windows, but they do sparkle after we remove that soap!
4. “Someone rubbed hamburger grease all over the windows!” This is my favorite, by far. The bird house is near a concessions area, and I think the aromas imbed into our subconcious, because I often find myself day dreaming of a juicy burger as well.
Next time you visit the zoo, make sure to stroll through the Tropical Bird House. If you see a hazy window, you’ll be in the know!
Unfortunately, our exhibits in the bird house are not the only place where birds need a little help from humans to avoid collisions. Want to make sure your windows are safe for our feathered friends? Check out this helpful website!