Monday, March 14, 2011

Hyacinth Highway at the Tennessee Aquarium

Sometimes aviculturists at the Tennessee Aquarium use special construction skills. The other day Loribeth Aldrich and Amy Graves spent some time engineering a new hyacinth highway. About three or four times of year, they have to replace the grapevine that the macaws use as travel corridors. Apparently these parrots think their roads are rather tasty. "They will peel it, play with it and chew on it," said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. "They actually chewed through a piece that was one of their main routes from tree to tree. So we're replacing it with a nice solid pathway."

This new multi-lane "treeway" is more than just an expressway for commuting from perch to perch. The new grapevine is so completely different than what the birds are used to that it can be considered enrichment for them. "Now they have to learn the easiest way to get from place to place within the exhibit," said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. "There's also a lot more vine than we've had in here in awhile. They're going to have a lot of places to duck and climb that they didn't have before."

As with many transportation projects, materials are sometimes brought in from distant locations. In this case, the road bed came from Northeast Tennessee. "The vine comes from my in-laws property in Roane County," said Graves. "Whenever we go to visit them, I enroll my husband's help to collect a large amount of grape vine. We need to make sure that the property that the vine comes from does not have any chemical treatment on it or on the lawn adjacent to it."

Even though the hyacinths love to perform for visitors, they aren't exactly bold explorers. They tend to be Sunday drivers the first time they are introduced a new highway such as this. "They will sit on their perch and look at it at first, but once they begin to explore it they are going to love it," said Aldrich.

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