I’ll back up a second, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m being cocky. To quote a wise man, it ain’t braggin mother f**er if you back it up. Thanks for the sage words, Kid Rock. But seriously–I’m good at what I do when I’m working with raptors. And it feels incredible to feel this good about my abilities. A big part is having an innate talent as well as the right temperament to work with wild animals, especially birds of prey that are sitting on your hand, inches from your face. The other part is guidance and training from those who have come before you and the wisdom to listen to their advice.
I can say I’m good at what I do because I am. I have learned enough in the past three years to recognize that I am a good handler and a good caretaker of the birds that I care for. I also recognize that I still have loads to learn from those who have decades on me. And in addition to all that guidance an training, I truly feel I have an innate talent for working with animals. I sometimes shy away from making such a bold comment about myself, but I don’t think I would have accomplished so much so fast if I didn’t.
Let me explain with a couple examples.
This is Gavin. She’s a Red-shouldered Hawk at the Center where I volunteer, and she’s an educational bird that wasn’t used very frequently because of her tendency to fly around her enclosure, hitting her head on the ceiling. Many others suggested ways to pad the ceiling or the enclosure to prevent her from injuring herself.
I suggested working the bird and training her so that she was habituated to people and wouldn’t fly when someone entered.
This was the suggestion that was used and I spent every day with her, getting her used to my presence and getting her used to stepping to the glove so that any person entering was not a stressful situation. Within three weeks, I had built up the routine and the trust so that she could come out frequently on the glove and even, finally, present at programs to show how amazing and beautiful this species is. I don’t think I was the only one to recognize the issue and solution, but I was probably one of the first and I was the one to implement it with the blessing, approval and guidance of Laura.
Training, repetition and consistency is key to having a calm bird, and some species are more high maintenance than others. Red-shoulders just happen to be one of those species. Peregrines are another.
Being good with these birds is not only recognizing when they are in distress, but when they are comfortable and experiencing positive experiences. Today I provided a Peregrine with a misting shower while cleaning her enclosure because she stands and waits for the shower. Peregrines love their water, and it’s something I have learned and learned to anticipate to give them a good experience.
Another example is this bird here, Reeses, a Short-eared Owl.
Part of his enrichment includes environmental enrichment which can be anything from placing something in his enclosure, to taking him out for a walk. In the past, his walks were restricted to within the woods on the property, or a short walk down a driveway. But I thought of his species and how they are open field birds, living in the tundra and where there is prairie and grasslands, so I decided our walk would go out to the pasture and fields that day.
Although I would never place an emotion such as “happy” to a bird, there is no evidence to support that wild animals experience human emotions, I would say that he had an extremely positive experience and response to where we walked. He was alert and interested in everything around him, but in a natural, non-defensive manner. He was extremely comfortable in his surroundings. As I returned him to his enclosure, I felt a swell of pride for recognizing such a simple way of enriching his life . And it was due to my knowledge and training that I was able to do this. That pride made me think “I am good at what I do.” It doesn’t make me cocky–it makes me confident.
I’ve said before that what I do is extremely rewarding and I love doing it without question. It feels marvelous to know that I’m good at what I do and that I have the chance to do it every single day.
Each experience with the birds lets me grow and learn from them, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.