Light as a feather: Household item doubles as award-winning zoo tool

March 5, 2012 - 8:00am

Oregon Zoo Wild Life Live! show wins animal enrichment award

Zoos around the country might soon be stocking up on feather dusters—and not for spring cleaning. The Oregon Zoo Wild Life Live! staff was recently recognized for their use of the “Enrichment Device of the Year” by the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE). That winning device? You guessed it: the feather duster.
In February, bird trainers and educational programming experts from seven countries gathered at the 20th annual IAATE conference to award grants for conservation and education projects that are important to the ongoing welfare of avian species, both in captivity and in the wild. Additionally, the IAATE board also presented awards to members who have demonstrated exceptional creativity or skill in various areas of avian training and care. The Oregon Zoo took home the trophy for “Enrichment Device of the Year;” one of five categories for animal husbandry and care.
An enrichment device is one that provides stimulation and new challenges for an animal in a zoo or other non-wild habitat. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has declared enrichment to be as critical to an animal's well-being as having the right food and medical care. After Eurasian eagle owl Najla began to show a big interest in preening, her keepers introduced a feather duster into her habitat. Najla immediately took to the duster and loves to preen and pluck its feathers. In addition to the feathery toy, Najla has other daily enrichment; one of her favorites is paper or other materials for shredding.