One of the most useful tools in the management of captive pairs of birds is video observation. Not only do video observations satisfy one’s curiosity as to who is doing what to whom, carefully managed observations can reveal very interesting patterns of behavior. These careful and methodical observations allow the biologists at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation centers to record critical events in the breeding cycle of difficult-to-manage species like the `alala.
Video recordings are made daily at prescribed times and then played back in time-lapse mode. Time-lapse will slow down the activity of the birds so the biologists can identify behaviors and events. Each behavior is recorded as being “positive” (copulation, nest forming, egg laying, and incubation) or “negative” (aggression, displacement, inappropriate “play”). Based on these observations, program managers can evaluate which pairs are getting along and should be left together, and which pairs are best split up and paired with new birds in the hope of improving reproduction.
Once eggs are laid, video monitoring will allow biologists to determine if the female is a good mother or not. A good hen will sit on her eggs at least 80 percent of the time. By watching and calculating her nest attentiveness, it is possible to determine the best time to remove eggs from the nest for artificial incubation.
Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
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