Animal magic at Harewood in a new move for manager

Here Animal Keeper  John Waller is surrounded by  Pygmy goats  at the new Harewood Farm Experience.(GL1009/40i)
Here Animal Keeper John Waller is surrounded by Pygmy goats at the new Harewood Farm Experience.(GL1009/40i)

Nick Dowling took on his role as Bird Garden and Farm Experience Manager in December 2015, joining Harewood from Edinburgh Zoo, as he explains in this column.

As manager, it’s my responsibility to oversee the daily running of the Bird Garden and the newly created Farm Experience.

It’s an exciting, busy part of Harewood which is at the start of a three-year development plan to enhance this much loved part of the grounds.

My day begins at 8am when I arrive at the Bird Garden kitchen with the rest of the team.

The Bird Garden is home to 37 different bird species which all have specific dietary needs.

From the tall, elegant cranes to the critically endangered Bali starling, we make sure each bird has the right food. We also prepare buckets of chopped carrots, apples, pears and leafy greens for our rabbits, guinea pigs and farm animals.

Once prepared, we head to the Bird Garden and begin the task of feeding and cleaning all the aviaries. We check all the birds to make sure that they are in good health whist we’re in the enclosures before the visitors arrive. One of my personal favourites in the Bird Garden are our family of palm cockatoos. These are unusual birds and it’s the first time I’ve worked with them. The youngest of the three birds is very inquisitive and he will often fly around the keepers, watching them closely as we clean and prepare the large aviary.

At this time of year we often find nests full of eggs which we will leave with parents to look after. On some occasions it may be necessary to take the eggs carefully to our artificial incubation room. Here we place them in specially designed incubators and hand rear any chicks that might hatch.

Once all of the birds are fed and checked, we go for a well-earned cup of coffee!

The next job is to clean out the farm animal paddocks and give them their first feed of the day.

At 12pm, one of the keepers will take a bucket of eggs, veg and fruit to the pig enclosure. Here we invite visitors to take an item from the bucket and throw it over the fence for the pigs to enjoy.

They are full of character and, since their arrival in March, I’ve grown very fond of them.

Once the pigs have had their fill, we move onto the next paddock. Once again visitors can feed leafy greens to our hungry pygmy goats.

After lunch, I often leave the Bird Garden and Farm in the capable hands of the team and head over to the office to carry out the necessary (and inevitable!) paperwork for the day.

This includes record keeping, ordering supplies, planning for upcoming events, liaising with the vet, managing new arrivals and arranging transportation of animals who may be leaving our care.

A significant role for the Bird Garden is the care and preservation of endangered species. Many of the birds we manage are in captive breeding programmes which supports their ongoing survival.

These breeding programmes exist to support the genetic variation of captive populations. Computer databases help compile studbooks that record the details of each individual animal in the programme. This includes the animal’s sex, date of birth, and full family history.

No money changes hands when we exchange animals with other zoos. Our aim is purely to save and protect endangered wildlife.

We have welcomed several new additions including six Humboldt penguins which arrived in early March from the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire.

We also took on an egg which our colony have adopted. We hope that this foster-chick will hatch soon.

Other new additions include a pair of cheer pheasants which form part of our Himalayan themed enclosures overlooking the Lake, and a large group of roul roul partridge, an appealing, ground dwelling bird from Borneo.

When I’m in the office, it’s also the time that I catch up with the rest of the team who work outside the Bird Garden. The team at Harewood have a lot to juggle from school groups to TV interviews.

At 3.30pm, I will head back to the Bird Garden to carry out the Daily Penguin Talk and often find myself introducing not only the penguins, but also the wild grey herons and red kites that visit the enclosure hoping they might help themselves to a sprat or two.

Once I have answered the varied and interesting questions from visitors, I will either head back to the office, or carry out a variety of tasks around the Bird Garden until it is time to close for the evening.

Every day there are new and exciting challenges arriving, so no two days are ever the same.