Before I came to work for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, public speaking made me nervous and I had never held a bird before. But there was one way in which I felt prepared for this job. This one trait above all others is what likely gave me the competitive edge to land this job in the first place. I can deal with people. During the last two summers I worked as a boat inspector for what was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and I could write a whole blog post on my interactions with folks there. Before that, I worked at Subway and that’s all I’m legally allowed to say about that :P.
I should start off by saying that I am pleasantly surprised by my experiences with guests here. Folks are generally happy to see me, which is a feeling I’m unfamiliar with in public service. They are usually friendly and respectful. That being said, there is some bird-related etiquette and a few emerging patterns that I will explain here. For any of you readers who don’t spend hours every day with birds out in public, here are a few tips.
Just Around the Corner
Twice a day before each show, one of us takes a bird out into the main hub of the Center to advertise for our upcoming shows. While doing this, the birds are already uncomfortable. They will tolerate groups of people, but that doesn’t mean they like it. They are inside, and there’s a lot going on around them so they are way out of their comfort zone. To help make them more comfortable, we stand in an area where their backs are against the wall so they can’t be surrounded.
Unfortunately, where we have to stand also happens to be right next to a corner, and guests here are incredibly unobservant. I had a woman come around the corner so fast and so intent on getting to the Buffalo Bill Museum, that she never even noticed Isham (red-tailed hawk) was there until she was already past him and he had evacuated his system in sheer terror. Isham especially seems to have a knack for startling people and he never even moves. So, as you’re walking to wherever you are going, take wide corners. I’m not saying there’s going to be an angry great horned owl on the other side…but I’m not saying there won’t be one there either.
The Unusual Suspects
Which age group or nationality do you think gives me the biggest problem? Did you guess American adults? No? Well that’s because you’re racist and ageist. American adults is definitely my problem group. When I’m standing in the central hub with a bird, it’s most often the kids that keep their distance and admire from afar.
Foreigners do present their own issues though, specifically a language barrier. Most foreign folks who come through are very polite and interested in the birds, but some of them cannot take directions because they don’t understand me. It’s not so much their fault. They’re just here for a quick visit after all. But when Isham is climbing off my glove and onto my skin (you know, the stuff that tends to bleed when you poke it with a sharp talon) because the French guy posing for a picture with him cannot comprehend when I tell him to for the love of God stand still darnit (Not my exact words), we have a problem.
for the most part, the worst offenders of bird etiquette are still American adults, specifically parents. I had a woman who, without asking me or even bothering to make sure I was watching, shove her little boy right under Teasdale (great horned owl) so she could step back and take a picture. Teasdale looked at me with a terrified expression that said, “What is it, why is it here, and GET IT AWAY!” So parents, I know you want a cool picture of your kid with a raptor, but unless you want a picture of your kid screaming because I got blood on him while trying to dig a talon out of my arm, ask first!
Don’t guess the gender yourself
This really doesn’t have to do with manners, but just don’t. You will be wrong, almost always. Ninety percent of the time people refer to one of our birds as he or she, they use the wrong pronoun. Interestingly, half of the time this mistake is made after I have already told everyone the gender.
All in all, I’ve had a great time with the guests here. The vast majority of the people I meet are thrilled about our program and love to see these birds. We all just have to remember to keep our excitement in check a little bit. These are still wild animals, and they are generally waaaaay less excited to see you than you are to see them. So for your safety, the birds’ safety, (and especially my safety), give the birds a little room and a little respect. They won’t love you for it, but they will look at you as far less of an inconvenience.
Falconry Terms in Layman’s Terms
Falconry Definition: The action employed by eagles and hawks to evacuate mutes.
Layman’s Terms: When Isham considers the paper you have put down to catch his poo, and shoots it against the wall instead.