By Sarah the Intern
It wasn’t until the second day, when Melissa let us hold Teasdale the great horned owl, that it finally hit me. It was the second time I had held a bird — a bird in the hand. I had been looking at Melissa, listening intently to whatever handling tip she was teaching us at the time. I turned my head to look at the bird on my arm, and met the gaze of an immense pair of golden eyes just a few inches from my face (Teasdale tends to lean in toward you when you hold him). And there it was. There was a great horned owl on my arm! My arm! Mine! I was actually holding this amazing bird. And I was going to keep holding birds all summer! This was so awesome!
Two weeks later, it still feels awesome. I figured that, after so many days doing the same thing over and over, it would get a little old. Not yet! Maybe it’s the personality of the birds. Maybe it’s the Facebook messages from friends and family such as “Sounds like you’re having a way better summer than I am,” or, “That is too epic for words.” Maybe it’s the wonderful attitudes of the people I get to work with. Maybe it’s the awe and excitement of every person who meets these birds. Whatever it is, I hope it keeps coming because I am loving it!
The people who come to see the birds often ask me if I’ve had previous training handling live raptors. My wide-eyed response is “nope, absolutely not.” A couple months ago I’d never dreamed of being even close to a living, breathing raptor, and now I’m non-nonchalantly carrying on conversations with people while a peregrine falcon flaps away on the end of my glove. But I’ve learned a lot in just two weeks. I’ve learned important lessons such as: everyone should experience owl breath at least once because it is truly is AWFUL, it’s all fun and games until the turkey vulture rips a chunk out of your shoe, you know a peregrine has enjoyed her meal when it looks like a pheasant exploded inside her stall, and even birds can be picky eaters and you’d best humor them unless you want to spend all of the next morning picking guts out of the Astroturf.
While everyone around here has been really busy as it is, things are looking to pick up soon. Eventually we will be starting our legitimate pay-to-see shows. There are still a few details to work out, though, such as how much to charge and who should be responsible for taking tickets. I have found, throughout my job experiences, that such administrative issues can be really frustrating to work out. After all, everyone has different interests to keep in mind. I’m glad that, for now at least, I can just sit back and observe. It seems that wildlife work always involves bringing together diverse groups. In the future, it will be important for me to understand how to best get such groups to work together towards a common goal that isn’t always totally in everyone’s best interest in the short term. Should I ever become an administrator myself, I want to be able to see things from many different angles. In this case, however, I am fortunate that so many within the museum staff seem almost as excited about this program as I am.
On the bright side, the longer it takes to get the show started, the more time we have to get the birds ready to show off their awesome selves. On Saturday morning, there were so many people and so much commotion that poor Teasdale kept looking at me with a face that screamed, “Please get me out of here!” before taking matters into his own talons and launching himself off of my glove (his escape plan worked about as well as you would expect). He still needs to get used to this whole amphitheater thing. Even Hayabusa is experiencing some “stage fright.” Isham’s being a real trooper though. It’s like he’s been doing this long enough that nothing fazes him…well…nothing except the horrifying scale and the terrifying squirt bottle. Suli is about to start training for a couple behaviors (it is apparently falconry sacrilege to call them tricks) that we hope she will eventually perform for the shows.
Wow, this has turned into quite a long post. I hope it’s at least an interesting read. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the cord that connects my camera to my computer (…again), so I will not likely be as constant with pictures as Melissa was. I will try to steal some from her and my fellow intern, Brandon, as often as possible. Until next time, have a wonderful week!
Falconry terms in laymen’s terms.
Falconry Definition: Leather straps permanently attached to the legs of a trained raptor.
Laymen’s Definition: The leather thingies around a birds leg that keep the jesses secure, but that you never think about until you have to strap them around the legs of an agitated great horned owl. My what lovely talons you have Teasdale. And what a sharp, painful looking beak!