Yesterday I spent a few hours at the Zoo Berlin, some of the time inspecting the new aviary. I had both my sons with me, which made it impossible to spend any serious time checking out the building or its inhabitants, so this will be a brief introduction to the building only. A full photographic inventory? Maybe after the next visit.
Above is a plan of the ground floor. I simply took a photo of the emergency exit plan that each public building in Germany must have on prominent display (displays, in fact, if it any larger than one room). The green are is where visitors are allowed to go. The bird cages are split into four big areas comprised of smaller cages all around the perimeter, and three big walk-through aviaries in the middle. You can see smack in the middle of the building an area where two “fingers” of green reach in from both sides. These are connected by staircases and a 1st floor “treetop walk”, from which you have great views of the three walk-through aviaries.
The four areas are geographically arranged: Asia, Australia, Africa and South America. The last one is the biggest (top right), but additionally houses parrots & Co. As you can see from the plan, each outside cage is matched by an inside one of good size. This way, birds can be outdoors if the weather is suitable, but are not limited to a tiny little chamber when the weather is not suitable for them. Some of the cages are quite large, and I expected them to be stuffed full with many species, but the highest number I can recall is four. Most have only one or two species in them. Currently, all these cages look rather austere, but that will obviously change as soon as the newly planted vegetation in them starts to grow a bit.
Here’s two photos from this winter, showing the building under construction. In the first you can see the bulk of the multi-story building that houses the central walk-through aviaries and its large glass front (other side is a mirror of this one), and the outer wall of on of the four corner areas, with the wire mesh of the external cages still missing. The second has the wire mesh installed.
and here is a shot taken today:
Yes, blank wiremesh – I’ll get to that in a second.
OK, inside next. Here are a few views of the various areas with cages. Each has a nice, wide area with a skylight and some seats, so even if the place gets a bit fuller you can still move around freely – no need to herd people through in a predetermined direction.
And now you have already seen the genius design: the roofs above the bird cages allow in a lot of natural light. They aren’t made from glass, by the way, but from UV-permeable plexiglas. That’s good for the birds, even though it is a lot more expensive. The visitor area is dark, with the skylights providing enough light that there is no risk of running into things or people. As a result the building nicely shows the birds, instead of nicely hiding them in dark corners, as some others do. Also, the birds are not confused or feel threatened by the visitors.
The walls are all visible concrete, high quality, though, thus not very likely to do dingy soon, very sober and unpretentious. The hallways between the corners, which house the doors to the outside, and from which the “finger” allowing access to the walk-throughs and the treetop walk branch off, are built in the exact same style, obviously, and look a bit like prison architecture. But then, they have large panorama windows into the walk-through aviaries, and these combined with the natural light lit area at the other end of each hallway give a “light at the end of the tunnel” quality, drawing people on to see – the birds! Compared to some other bird houses and their underground mine feeling, that’s an enormously positive difference.
Labels are kept to a bare minimum, but a keeper I talked to told me that there may be some changes, soon. That’s also true for some other aspects, including the wire mesh (which I promise I *really will* come to in a second). The main (I guess) entrance also has a small cafeteria, offering mainly pretend-Asian stuff. This area is another great example of the very simple and unadorned style the place is built.
A closer view of one of the panorama windows. In some, there is a small wooden bench-like sill, as with the cages in the corner areas (see photos below). Very handy for children.
And now, finally, on to the individual cages. They are all constructed the same way, although I think there was some difference in the thickness of the mesh wires – they show Keas, for whom 2” stainless steel would likely be a good idea.
In this shot you can nicely see the skylight above the cages; a continuous row along the full area of all cages instead of just small spots here and there. It feels like 90% of being outside in there, I bet!
Lionel watching the Crested pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) like a hawk.
Crested pigeon watching Lionel like a hawk.
Because all cages are the same, I expect one thing to change very quickly: there will be signs added warning people about the risk of damage to or loss of fingers around the parrot cages. Right now one can stick one’s fingers though and have them nicely bitten off. Obviously, many parrots and cockatoos love playing with visitors, but personally, I’d also add some plexiglas for as high as small children can reach, just to be on the safe side here.
Glossy Black Cockatoo (I think – Calyptorhynchus lathami) clinging to the mesh; it was climbing after someone’s fingers. And these shots now finally bring us to that mesh. As you can see it is as of now still shiny, and I expect it to get even lighter in colour when it dulls. And that’s bad for photographers. A dark mesh is more expensive, because it has to be coated in some way, but even in this very well constructed bird house, the light-coloured mesh picks up any bit of background light from the visitors’ side and throws it right back at the camera. If the birds are far back from it one can often get quite OK shots, provided the birds are small enough and one has the equipment to shoot through a single opening in the mesh. This worked for me even for the not-so-small Great Green Macaws (Ara ambiguus), but – well – see for yourself what the “but” is.
– try as I might, I could not shoot truly through an opening. All I could do was zoom out so that the birds are seen through one. That reduces their size in the photo, and thus the resolution of their picture.
– I was extremely limited with regards to the angle, and thus with regards to photo composition. No way I can lift the camera high to get a near-level shot.
– I was very limited with regards to the angle between mesh and lens; I had to go with neraly 90°. No way I can angle the shot to get a side view instead of a back view.
All in all: AAARGH!
and if a bird (Yellow-crested Cockatoo [Cacatua sulphurea]) simply is too close to the mesh, there is nothing one can do. This bird sat about 1/3 of cage depth back, so not a bad position normally. But there was simply no way I could get a decent shot.
However, it is not all bad. I managed some very nice shots despite the mesh. I’ll show them next time, as well as photos of the walk-through areas and the treetop walk.