I am a very fortunate person. I am one of the lucky people who LOVES their job. But it’s more than that. Not only do I work with amazing animals and wonderful volunteers who will do almost anything for those amazing animals, but I also work for someone who appreciates me and my skills and allows and even encourages me to seek ways to be even better at what I do. I have learned that THAT is truly amazing.
I have worked with raptors in four different organizations now. Every organization is different. Every organization has good qualities and bad, but one thing I really disliked about a previous job was the fact that my boss did everything in his power to keep me from learning about my “industry.” I read about raptors every night, searching for interesting new facts I could use in my programs and that was fine with him. What wasn’t fine was attending conferences or presentations by other raptor educators or education groups. I soon realized the real reason this took place, but we won’t go into that now. The important thing is that interacting with others in your chosen profession and discussing new information and techniques is critical. Fortunately, my current boss supports continuing education and encouraged me to attend the 21st annual conference for the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) in Tampa a few weeks ago. And what a fantastic experience!
A surprise to most people who know me, the most difficult part about attending this conference for me was mustering up the courage to talk to strangers. I know, I talk to strangers for a living! These weren’t regular strangers, remember… these were strangers who love what I love. But they also KNOW a lot of, or more than, what I do so it can be very intimidating. Luckily, I found a few super fantastic ladies to chat with, exchange ideas, and just have fun with during the conference.
Before the conference officially begins, they offer “pre-conference trips.” While tempted to swim with manatees, I chose to attend a day at Natural Encounters, Inc. (NEI). Often considered THE organization for professional bird shows (they are often contracted to present bird shows at zoos and state fairs around the country), they are a great source for help with husbandry, animal training, staff training, and much more! Our day included a tour of their facility which houses hundreds of birds from around the world—everything from chickens to parrots to crows to raptors! At every corner there were new ideas flooding my brain!
The most exciting parts of our tour, for me, were the free-flight demonstrations. They started by showing us a gorgeous young crowned crane. She takes daily “walks” with a staff member to build up her strength and stimulate her mentally. She was beautiful, but I wanted to see raptors.
Next we got a quick lesson on how to train a parrot to turn around. Having worked with parrots many years ago I was moderately interested, but I wanted to see raptors.
Finally, we got to the good stuff (for me, anyway). I have never seen an albino bird, or even a partial albino (leucistic), in the wild. I lived very close to a leucistic red-tailed hawk in Colorado and never managed to see it, even though half my friends did. On this day, however, I saw one! Lakota, the red-tailed hawk, was one of the most beautiful birds I’ve seen, and here she was, flying just for us!
I am a big fan of vultures! While I’m not well traveled, I have been lucky enough to get to see some cool vultures in captivity. There are still MANY I need to see, but it’s always a real treat to see the big ones. “Sadie,” a female Andean Condor was brought out for us next. She is so amazingly beautiful and we got to see her fly up to a large platform and back down. Several times! When it was time to take her back, she didn’t want to go so we got to see a few extra flights 🙂
I didn’t think they could top flying an Andean Condor, but I was wrong. Recently NEI received a male Harpy Eagle from the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. They had only had him for two months but had been flying him recently and thought it would be a treat for us so see him. Treat is an understatement! This is the largest and most powerful eagle species in the world. They can weigh up to 20 pounds and hunt mainly animals that live in the trees of the rainforests of Central and South America—that means sloths and monkeys! As you can imagine, I was slightly happy.
I don’t know that I remember much of the day after that. I’m pretty sure the meet and greet mixer was that night but I was still flying on cloud Harpy Eagle 🙂
Don’t worry, there was still plenty of excitement to come at this conference but since I’ve already written so much I think you’ll have to wait for more details and photos! Stay tuned for papers and our day at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo!