LOCAL NEWS

Utah’s Tracy Aviary creating love stories for endangered kea, who like to choose life partners

Feb 14, 2024, 9:18 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2024, 9:54 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Workers at the Tracy Aviary are adding a new skill to their resumes: matchmaker.

The aviary is protecting an endangered species by cultivating bird-pairing relationships with a facility for lovebirds. The rare birds are a species found only in New Zealand, called the kea. They are part of the world’s only alpine parrots and are one of the most intelligent birds in the world.

Like many of the humans strolling through the aviary on Valentine’s Day, the green-feathered creatures seek life-long companions, which is why the Tracy Aviary is helping them find love.

“Kea tend to bond for life,” said Allie Abel, agriculture manager at the aviary. And the aviary is one of the only places set up to help the birds find a suitable match.

“We have a bunch of young kea come here to Tracy Aviary, (they) grow up together and kind of build their relationships from a young age, decide who they want to pair with.”

But the birds have a reputation.

“They get into everything, so they’ll pull roofing nails out of roofs,” Abel said.

“They’re naughty birds,” aviary visitor Connor Beazley said. “They like to rip off your windshield wipers.”

“Keas are very special to Connor because his mom is from New Zealand,” visitor Aidan Dean said. Wednesday was the first time they learned that Keas, like humans, long for a life partner.

“I hope they fall in love,” Beazley said.

One of the birds currently in the Utah exhibit is the product of the program.

“We sent Arthur and Ikaroa over to the Sedgwick Zoo in Wichita, Kansas,” Abel said. “And there they successfully bred and raised Tahi, who is this young fella.”

Even though the kea are known to ruffle some feathers, the charismatic, clever birds like to choose who they’ll match with.

“When you just put one and one together, it’s less successful,” Abel said. And only so many zoos have the space and ability to house a flock that allows the choosing process to happen.

“We matched on Tinder first … so this is kind of like Tinder for birds,” Dean said.

“I think it’s amazing that they’ve got the good facility here to do it, and hopefully we’ll make some true matches,” visitor Rudy Albachten said.

Kea require a lot of attention, time and enrichment toys.

“They have a similar intelligence level to 5-to-7-year-old human children,” Abel said.

Along with keeping the intelligent birds happy and healthy, aviary keepers watch for signs of a love match. They hope that keeps the chicks coming.

“They might preen through each other’s feathers,” Dean said.  “They’ve got a little ‘Love Island’ going on.”

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Utah’s Tracy Aviary creating love stories for endangered kea, who like to choose life partners