This morning I put on my work shirt, then giggled when I realized it was the first shirt I bought to work with the birds. I tucked in my shirt (I used to always forget to do it) and pinned on my name tag. I combed my hair, strapped on my favorite bracelet, and slipped into my shoes. This was it. I was ready for my last day at the Center.
At work I greeted each of the birds in turn. Suli looked nervously at me, as usual, while Isham and Haya were generally indifferent. Teasdale hissed me my good morning hiss as I passed. I grabbed his leash and his swivel, and picked his jesses up off of the floor (he still pulls them out). He was sitting on his feet again so it took me some time before I could find his anklets. Then I threaded each jess through the anklets, inside to outside, looped the jesses around the swivel. Then I tied the leash securely to both myself and the bird just as I was taught.
As Teasdale stepped reluctantly onto my glove, I remembered a show we did a couple of weeks ago. Due to weather we ended up inside in the Coe Auditorium. I was holding Teasdale and he was pretty nervous. Then the crowd started cheering during the eating contest between Haya and a volunteer kid from the audience. Teasdale, the big scary great horned owl, scooted right over and leaned up against my arm, seeking protection against all the noise. It would have been the cutest thing ever if he hadn’t had to walk off of my glove and up my bare arm to do so.
Then it was time for the first show of the day. It would be my last show as speaker. I expected Melissa to mess with me during the show, but I just wasn’t sure how. The show started, and Isham came on as usual. Next up was Suli, held by Melissa. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Melissa standing with her back to me. She had said she was going to hold Suli so she couldn’t see me in order to get her excited and encourage her to fly even better. She had the creance line tied, so I knew she was ready. I introduced Suli, held out my hand with some mouse for her, Melissa turned, and threw a stuffed animal turkey vulture at me. I had tried to prepare myself to continue the show despite whatever Melissa “threw” at me, but I was so surprised that I just started laughing. The crowd was kind of confused, but thankfully Melissa came down and explained everything.
Toward the end of the show I was holding Hayabusa. It’s hard not to get distracted while she’s on the glove. Aside from the constant flapping, she’s just so darn gorgeous. I still remember her hanging upside down by one jess, yelling her head off at me for being so dumb as to let her end up in this situation. I thought about how much fun it was to feed her. To watch her lean out over the edge of her shelf, flapping to keep her balance, before daintily plucking food from my bare hand.
Then came time to advertised for our second show. Suli was up. She is still afraid of the inside so we hold her out in the garden. When she gets her wings out to soak up the sun she draws long looks from everyone passing in the breezeway. While I spent the next fifteen minutes or so turning around to afford Suli the best position, I thought about how far we’d come.
I remembered Brandon and I plucking grass and offering it to her to play with, since she was too scared to let us get too close. I remembered letting her play with my shoes, and the first time I gave her an apple. I was so happy to watch her shred it and even eat it a little. I remembered the first time she finally let me touch her, and how soft her skin is. I remembered the first time she flew to me, and I remembered just yesterday, when she flew to me without a food reward. She was very disappointed.
Then came my last show. I had requested to hold the boys for this show because Isham is the last bird I bring out. Isham was the first bird I ever held, and he was the last bird I held today. I remembered that feeling. That crazy excitement of having a wild animal only a few feet from my face, on my glove! Mine! I was actually holding a real live bird! And I was going to get to do this all summer! Isham was the first, and he guided me patiently through all the rules. I’m glad to say that, even today, there’s still some excitement there just having a bird on my glove. Isham was my very first, and it wasn’t until I put him down, until I felt the pressure leave my glove as he stepped back onto his perch, that I really started to cry.
This summer has just been amazing. I have been given the opportunity to meet, and to work with, some amazing people. Not just the volunteers who took me under their wings, but all of the people I’ve met from management, to security, to maintenance, to landscaping, everyone. Even the folks who came to visit us and our birds were wonderful. I have learned so much, especially from Melissa. She has been such a wonderful friend and teacher. And of course, there’s the birds, without whom I would not be crying as I type this. Thank you to everyone, you have graced my life with wonder and joy. I will NEVER forget this summer.
I hope to visit Cody again many times. Maybe I’ll even get the chance to work here some day. Or maybe even in Yellowstone itself! I’m still in school. I can afford to dream big. For now though, I shall be turning over all blog duties to Anne Hay, an amazing volunteer. So keep reading her stories and keep following these amazing people and their amazing birds. Until next time, this is Sarah the Intern, signing off.
Falconry Terms in Layman’s Terms
Falconry Definition: Greater Yellowstone Raptor Experience
Layman’s Terms: The single best thing I have ever worked for, and the most fun I have ever had. Thank you all so much.