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Michelle with galah chick

Michelle carefully holds a young galah.

With nearly 300 birds in our care, we’re delighted to welcome dozens of chicks to the Zoo family every year. Although most of these little ones are raised by their parents with minimal human intervention, a select few need to be reared by keepers. This may occur when the parents have never successfully hatched out a chick and the egg is placed in an incubator to maximize its chances of developing, or the parents abandon the egg altogether.

So who fills in for mom and dad? That’s animal care supervisor Michelle Ferguson.

Ferguson didn’t always see herself as a bird person. In fact, her very first foray into zookeeping was an internship with African elephants—a species that requires a very different type of care and work schedule. But when the opportunity arose to work at Brevard Zoo in what was then known as Australasia (now Lands of Change: Australia and Beyond), she couldn’t turn it down.

Charged with caring for more than 200 birds in the Zoo’s lorikeet and cockatiel aviaries, Ferguson quickly developed an affinity for her new feathered friends.

In her first month on the job, Ferguson observed as longtime animal resource coordinator Bill Maynard—lovingly known by Zoo staff as “Birdman Billy”—demonstrated how he was caring for a rainbow lorikeet chick. With guidance from Maynard and other senior animal care personnel, Ferguson began to play a hands-on role in neonatal bird care, learning to incubate eggs, feed finnicky eaters and fashion artificial nests out of towels and plastic bins.

One of her first “babies” was Furby, a tawny frogmouth chick Ferguson co-reared with her supervisor. Ferguson followed to a regimented feeding schedule that involved feeding Furby as often as every two hours, even in the middle of the night.

In the years that followed, Ferguson slowly became the Zoo’s go-to “bird mom,” helping to raise countless flamingos, spoonbills, ibis, turacos and—most recently—a kookaburra and pair of galahs. Senior management took notice of Ferguson’s successes and promoted her to the supervisor level, and Ferguson is now imparting her knowledge to younger keepers.

Although she recently moved from Lands of Change to Rainforest Revealed, Ferguson maintains tawny frogmouths are her favorite birds to care for because they “look like little Muppets” upon hatching. It seems Instagram is inclined to agree.