Observe Animal Behavior Like a Zoo Scientist! - Published by the Piedmont Post

Wilson Sherman, Program Manager of Community Engagement and Belonging at Oakland Zoo
June 4, 2024

Field trip group making behaviorial observations at flamingo habitat

Have you ever wondered what skills you need to work with animals at the Zoo? Zookeepers and veterinarians are skilled in making careful observations. An observation is when we gather information through our senses, such as seeing, hearing, or smelling. Making observations is an important part of being a scientist.

The animals who live at the Zoo can’t talk, so zookeepers and veterinarians carefully observe what the animals are doing (their behavior) to ensure their happiness and health. When we observe animals engaging with fun things in their habitat, eating, and resting, we can tell they are healthy and comfortable. If we observe animals sleeping more than usual, not eating their food, or limping, we know they may need help.

Zookeepers and veterinarians are scientists because they write down their observations. This allows them to learn how animal behavior changes over time, and detailed observations help us make the best decisions about what the animals need and want.

Oakland Zoo ZooCampers make observations at the Hamadryas baboon habitat

Activity: You can make observations like a zoo scientist, too!

You’ll need a timer, a piece of paper, a pencil, and one animal to observe. This animal could be a pet in your home, a lizard in your yard, or a squirrel at a park. If you can’t find an animal, you can also watch live videos of animals at the Oakland Zoo using our webcams. Pick one animal to watch, set a ten-minute timer, and write down every behavior you observe (zoo scientists call this continuous sampling). Try to write down at least one behavior each minute, even if it’s the same behavior twice. You can also draw a picture. After ten minutes, review your notes. What did the animal do the most? What did they do the least? Do you notice any patterns?

Congratulations! You’re now an animal behavior scientist!