Monday, August 3, 2015

A Walk Down the Exhibit Line with a Twist

For a recent World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer Meeting I was asked to take some photos of our birds from a different angle as a fun quiz.

 This month I have opted to share some of these with all of you. See how many of these fun photos you can figure out. Some of these are easy and some stumped even some of our staff who work with these birds daily. Good luck and have fun!

 Answers are at the end. 


1.  This one can be found outside the Wildlife Hospital Weathering area. He is a semiretired education bird. They hunt at night time. They eat almost any small animal that walk, swims, or crawls. They are named for the feathers on top of their head. 
2. This one can also be found outside in the Wildlife Hospital Weathering Area. He is also an education bird. He came into our wildlife hospital with feathers that were growing in upside down, making it difficult for him to fly. This is where he received his name. He is also named for the color of his shoulders. 
3. Our next guest lives on the exhibit line two cages down from the library, on the right. They’re two injured, long legged birds that have some amazing dances. 
4. Number three’s next door neighbor. She is growing up before staff’s eyes. She can often be seen sunning herself. 
5. These two live across from number 4. They love to swim in the water. In August, one of them will often make a guest appearance in our Birds in Concert event. 
6. There are four of them and they are similar to number 5. All four birds are injured and are from Florida. They can only be seen on our exhibit line during the summer. 
7. This last one is my favorite. I have received many compliments on this photo. He can be seen further down on our exhibit line. Last year he was a proud father of many little ones. He is named after one of our songs by our band and a cartoon character. 

 How many did you get right? 

1. Junior- Great-horned Owl 
2. Flip- Red-shouldered Hawk 
3. Sandhill Crane 
4. Dorothy- Andean Condor 
5. Mudflap- White Pelican 
6. Brown Pelican 
7. Fred-Royal Palm Turkey 


Article and photos submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Is That Snake Venomous?


Many people have a fear of snakes.  Some people will even go so far as to kill any snake they encounter. 

Even though they may look slithery and creepy, snakes are very beneficial to have around.  They are an important part of our ecosystems, and they even keep pests such as rodents under control.  In fact, snakes are so important that they are protected by law!  In the state of Missouri, The Wildlife Code of Missouri treats snakes as a protected non-game species. This means that there is no open season to hunt snakes, and it is against the law to kill them.


Pictured is a harmless ring-necked snake, a beautifully marked native in Missouri. (photo: Paige Davis)

Even though snakes spark fear in many people, they are much more afraid of you than you are of them!  Snakebites are not common, and most snakes would rather slither away then confront you.  Bites tend to occur when people accidentally make contact with a snake such as stepping on one.  If you are mindful of snakes and give them their space and respect, you will be able to appreciate these creatures safely.

Whether you are afraid of snakes or you love them, it is important to recognize which snakes are venomous and which are harmless.  All venomous snakes in Missouri are members of the pit viper family, and they share some recognizable characteristics.  These include:
 
1. A pit between the eye and nose on each side
2. Vertically shaped cat-like pupils
3. A single row of scales along the underside of the tail


A copperhead, Missouri’s most common venomous snake—note the pit below the eye and the vertical pupil (photo: Paige Davis)

By comparison, non-venomous snakes lack pits, have a circular pupil, and have a zipper-like pattern of scales along the tail. 

Venomous snakes in the state of Missouri include: the copperhead, cottonmouth, Western pygmy rattlesnake, Massasauga rattlesnake, and timber rattlesnake. The copperhead is Missouri’s most common venomous snake.  It is often confused for harmless water snakes such as the northern water snake.  Many harmless snakes are killed because they are thought to be dangerous.


This non-venomous water snake is harmless, but is often mistaken for a copperhead—notice the lack of a pit below the eye and the round pupil (photo: Paige Davis)

Snakes can be beautiful to observe in the wild.  But, if you are unsure of what species a snake is, never attempt to handle it.  Just leave it alone.  It is better to be safe than sorry when enjoying these fascinating creatures.

To learn more about snakes be sure to visit the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center where we have several non-venomous snakes on display.  Our Naturalists will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Raptors Extinct and Extant


While working at World Bird Sanctuary’s Stone Zoo bird show in Boston, I have learned to make three major distinctions indicative of raptors: excellent eyesight, strong grasping feet and a sharp, curved beak.

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park has made Velociraptors famous, but what do these prehistoric “raptors” have in common with modern raptors? They certainly don’t have a curved sharp beak or grasping feet.

It turns out Velociraptors and other theropod dinosaurs with raptor in their name such as Oviraptor or Eoraptor aren’t even closely related.  However they are united under the Maniraptoran clade, which means “seizing hands,” a nice parallel to extant (meaning living today) raptors’ seizing feet. They are defined as being more closely related to birds than other dinosaurs.


Dromaeosaurid (photo: wikipedia by Tom Parker)

Dromaeosaurs, or “running lizards,” are a group of Maniraptors containing Velociraptors and other “true” prehistoric raptors defined by their large grasping hands, a stiffened tail and one large, slashing claw on each foot. Modern birds of the Aves class are the sister group to Dromaeosaurs. You can compare an artists’ rendition of an extinct  raptor to our extant raptor, Diablo the Tawny eagle below.


Today we have many different raptors within Aves, which belong to different groups as well. The orders Accipitriformes, Strigiformes and Falconiformes are an example of convergent evolution and each produced unique raptor species.

Accipitriformes is the most diverse raptor order consisting of many different families of eagles, hawks, harriers, kites, osprey, the secretary bird and Old World vultures.  New World vultures of the Americas are not related to Old World vultures of Africa, Europe and Asia.  They have merely evolved to fulfill similar ecological niches.


Osiris, the Egyptian Vulture is an Old World Vulture (photo: Gay Schroer)


Baton Rouge, a King Vulture, is a New World Vulture (photo: Gay Schroer)

New World vulture phylogenic placement has proven to be difficult with DNA evidence supporting their inclusion in both the bird orders of Accipitriformes and Ciconiiformes or storks. Old World vultures are true raptors, while New World vultures lack the strong grasping feet of raptors. You can make this comparison between Osiris the Egyptian vulture (Old World) and Baton Rouge the King vulture (New World) at our Stone Zoo bird show.

Riley, a Barn Owl (photo: Aurora Potts)

Strigiformes consist of two main families of owls; barn owls and typical owls. Owls are mostly nocturnal and are therefore more sound sensitive than other raptors. Barn owls belong to the family Tytonidae.  Their face is heart-shaped and their legs are longer than that of Strigidae owls. Typical owls belong to the more varied family, Strigidae. You can see these distinctions on Riley the American Barn owl and Reese the Great Horned owl at our Stone Zoo bird show.

Reese, a Great Horned Owl (photo: Aurora Potts)

Naturally, Falconiformes are falcons, which are more closely related to songbirds and parrots than they are to any other raptor (believe it or not). Falcons are the speedy and agile birds of prey that use their tomial tooth at the end of their beak to break their prey’s spine. You can see the notch that is the tomial tooth on this Peregrine falcon on exhibit at Stone Zoo.

A Peregrine Falcon on exhibit at Stone Zoo

Even though extinct and extant raptors are hardly related, you can see all these fascinating predators possess many adaptations.   Their unique characteristics allow for a wide variety of species to share the generally speedy seizing and grasping raptorial name in prehistoric times and up to modern day.

Submitted by Aurora Potts, Naturalist/Trainer for World Bird Sanctuary’s Stone Zoo Show


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Birds as Parasites


In the spring and early summer months, it is enjoyable to watch birds nesting and raising their young.  If we’re lucky enough, we get to watch the juveniles grow from eggs into copies of their parents; however, some witness the occasional oddity: a bird feeding a chick that is clearly not its own.  This is a result of nest or brood parasitism.


Male Brown-headed Cowbird (photo: Wikipedia)
 Brood parasitism occurs when a parasitic species, such as the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), lays its eggs in another species’ nest.  In this host-parasite relationship, the parasite receives all the benefit, and the host incurs all the costs.  Since the parasite doesn’t have to worry about building and defending its own nest, it can put all of its energy toward producing eggs.  The female of the Brown-headed Cowbird, which is considered North America’s most common brood parasite, can lay up to three dozen eggs in a single summer, none of which are raised by the Cowbirds themselves.

For the host, the cost of being parasitized can be great.  The host’s own nestlings may grow more slowly due to a more competitive parasite nestling, or the host may lose its entire clutch due to nest abandonment or the destruction of the host’s eggs or hatchlings by the parasite.


Nest with a Brown-headed Cowbird egg (photo: Wikipedia)
 One has to wonder how the host parents could not notice the presence of a parasitic egg or hatchling, but some do.  Some host species are able to recognize eggs that are not their own and destroy them, but for most the distinction is difficult to make, since some nest parasites’ eggs mimic those of the host species, or the parasite’s egg is too difficult to destroy due to its size or harder shell.

If the parasite’s egg is not destroyed, it usually hatches before the host’s own eggs.  Shorter incubation times insure that the parasite grows more quickly to gain advantage over the other nestlings.  Even at this stage, it is possible for some species to recognize a chick that is not their own and discriminate against it; however, the vocalizations of the parasitic nestling can actually stimulate higher rates of feeding from the host parents, enabling it to out-compete the host nestlings.

Brood parasites can be dangerous to bird species that are already in decline. It is for this reason that entrance size of nest boxes is so important.  For cavity-nesting species like Eastern Bluebirds, keeping the opening to the box at a specific size decreases the odds that a parasite like the Brown-headed Cowbird will be able to fit into the box and lay its egg in the nest.

To download nest box plans that suit the need of various species Click Here.  If you’re not handy or don’t have enough time to make your own nest box; visit the World Bird Sanctuary’s Wildlife Hospital to purchase an  inexpensive nest box donated by some of our talented supporters.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist



Sunday, July 26, 2015

BIRDS IN CONCERT 2015


Join us for the World Bird Sanctuary’s 2015 Birds in Concert series this August!
Everyone gets involved in a Raptor Project concert--even the DoDo (photo: Gay Schroer)

World Bird Sanctuary’s in-house band, “The Raptor Project” performs songs from their popular children’s environmental education CDs while birds fly just inches over your heads.  Fun songs include “Turkey Named Fred”, “Roadkill Shiver”, “What’s the Matter”, Animal Noises” and others. 

“Raptor Project” performances  are followed by performances by local artists such as Javier Mendoza and others.

Games and giveaways from Whole Foods Market 


and St. Louis Sprout and About.


The Birds in Concert series is sponsored by Ameren Missouri.


WHEN:  Every Thursday evening in August
August 6, 13th, 20th and 27th
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Admission and parking is FREE
No reservations required

Here's the lineup:
August 6th: Raptor Project followed by Javier Mendoza
August 13th: Raptor Project
August 20th:  Raptor Project followed by Fowl Play
August 27th:  Babaloo followed by the Raptor Project

Stadium seating available—or—bring your lawn chairs and picnics.

Mark your calendars!

For the safety of our animals and the other guests—no pets please.

For directions ClickHere.

Friday, July 24, 2015

TIPS FOR HANGING A BLUEBIRD HOUSE


A Bluebird house can provide hours of enjoyment in your backyard.

However, bluebirds can be picky when it comes to settling into a new home.  They can also become victims of predators if their nesting places are easily accessible.  If you wish to hang a new home for the Bluebirds in your yard, here are some helpful tips to successfully attract a Bluebird family.

 A bluebird house at the World Bird Sanctuary (photo: Erica O’Donnell)
Bluebirds enjoy open areas, so choose an area that is at least 200 feet away from heavy woods.  However, 1 or 2 trees located within 50 feet of the Bluebird house will be useful for your Bluebird family.  This will help fledglings go from tree to tree during their first flights.  Try to hang the house near locations where you know Bluebirds enjoy perching.  This includes fence and telephone wires and posts.

Attempt to hang the house on a smooth metal post.  This will keep predators, such as snakes and raccoons from climbing up to invade the Bluebird’s home.  A good rule of thumb is to hang the house 5 to 15 feet up from the ground.  Hang the house so that it is facing an area with short grass that is frequently mowed.  This will help the bluebirds find food around this area, such as crickets and spiders.

If you choose to provide food for your new family, you will want to consider a few options.  Bluebirds are capable of learning to eat from feeders, but prefer mealworms and berries to traditional bird seed.  Mealworms can be obtained through pet stores, bait shops, and feed stores.

Hanging a Bluebird house can be a fun and educating experience.  Watching a new family settle and grow in your own yard can provide more entertainment than any piece of digital equipment. Enjoy your new friends!

Submitted by Erica O’Donnell, World Bird Sanctuary Education Coordinator

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Good-bye Stormy


The world will say good-bye tomorrow to the World Bird Sanctuary's beloved founder, Walter C. Crawford, Jr.

Walter C.  "Stormy" Crawford (photo: Gay Schroer)

He was an amazing man who will be missed by all who knew him.

To learn more about his remarkable life Click Here to read a very well written and comprehensive article that ran in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Good-by Stormy.  We'll think of you each time we see a raptor soaring on high.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Putting Oxygen Back Into The Water..Part 1


The water you drink . . . .it is full of stuff, even when you drink filtered water -- and that is a good thing!

The water that you bathe with, the stuff that comes out of the tap, the stuff that was deemed ‘safe’ by the local water company for you to drink, is full of stuff, too -- and that’s a good thing!


Dissolved oxygen .jpg 
The water that we call ‘rain’….it may have traveled thousands of miles from the ocean where it was picked up.  It may have floated over many hundreds of smoke stacks before it landed in our gardens and is also full of stuff, but this “stuff” may not always be a good thing if it has turned into acid rain.  Chances are, the rain also picked up a bunch of other stuff like soil and particulates, and that is usually a good thing!

Yes, the first thing that comes to mind is that water -- that clear, effervescent, necessary ‘gold’ that, unfortunately, we take for granted -- is usually full of stuff like minerals and microscopic life that is needed to keep us humans and other critters alive. 

Water, even purified and bottled water, is full of dissolved minerals, necessary for us humans to take in for all of our nutrients.  These minerals occasionally add flavor to the water when you taste extra iron or calcium.  And it might scare us modern humans to think that we are swallowing microbes, afraid that they could make us sick when, occasionally, these microbes DO make us sick.   Who knows what else was in that innocent-looking, plain, colorless glass of water that went so far to keep us alive, that satisfied our thirst, that got brewed into that delicious cup of java in the morning?

Most of us who took chemistry class in high school learned that the formula of “ H2O ”  was supposed to represent water -- 2 atoms of Hydrogen was bound together with one atom of Oxygen.   Most of us were taught about the chemical bonding, the chemical ‘attraction’ between these atoms, which always set up this wonderful ratio.  But if this was all that was ever in the water we drink, it would not be enough to help sustain life. 


Yellow-crowned Night Heron feeding on a Crawfish in Francis Biedler Forest, North Carolina…a demonstration of the “food chain” (photo: Gay Schroer)

Now, most of us are well aware that chemicals, minerals, soil, and all kinds of stuff can be dissolved into that water and that we need all that stuff to stay healthy.   Most of us have learned that fish can filter the life-giving oxygen out of the water across their gills as their version of ‘breathing.’  Most of us have learned that aquatic plants even pull oxygen out of the water to make the simple sugars that keep the plants alive, the microscopic organisms, the next level of creatures, etc., all the way up the predator chain.

But sometimes, it is not so much what was in that mouthful of wet that you just swallowed.  A large part of this story is about what it wasn’t.

What happens when you don’t have enough dissolved oxygen in the water?   Yes, unfortunately, you can have a whole pond or other large body of water -- all wet and wonderfully cool and surprisingly dead -- that is lacking in enough oxygen in the water.  It is a condition called ‘Low Dissolved Oxygen. It is a rather dangerous condition too, causing massive fish kills or unwanted algae growth and other out-of-balance conditions to the environment that affects both plant and animal life, both upstream and downstream, of the body of affected water.

Dorothy Falls, Lake Kaniere, South Island, New Zealand…falls such as this help to introduce extra oxygen into the downstream water (photo: Gay Schroer)

The ‘dissolved oxygen’ that we need in water is actually extra oxygen free floating in the water and it has a separate chemical symbol, shown as “ O2“.  It is a chemical bond between two oxygen atoms, bound only to each other and not to any hydrogen atoms.  It is this ‘dissolved oxygen’ that the microbes, plants, and fish grab out of the water to perform their bodily functions. The “ O2“ molecules (more than one atom) get put into the water by a variety of mechanisms:  most generally from the photosynthesis of plants releasing leftover oxygen into the water; bubbling and babbling brooks add extra oxygen from the turbulence, and even rain and lightening will help add extra oxygen back into the water.

We humans, particularly the environmentalists and engineers, have learned that there is a measurable quantity of “ O2“ that must be present in the water in order for it to be considered healthy.  If the amount of oxygen is too low in the water, then the plants can’t fully take up the soil’s nutrients, the microbes won’t process the chemicals, and the fish will suffocate.

Ultimately, we all know what that means -- no fish, no raptors and many other birds.

Check back with us next month when we have to start putting the oxygen back into the water......


Submitted by Paula Arbuthnot, World Bird Sanctuary Part Time Employee

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Junior Volunteers


Did you know that the World Bird Sanctuary has a Junior Volunteer program?  Some of our best and most valued volunteers began volunteering as a “Junior” volunteer. 

Shayne Sifford, for instance, began as a “Junior volunteer” back in February 2012.   Junior volunteers are not allowed to handle the Birds Of Prey.  However, Shayne and all junior volunteers are able to handle many of our mammals and reptiles during Junior Volunteer years.


Shayne Sifford handling Oliver the Screech Owl (photo: Mike Zieloski)
Once a Junior Volunteer reaches the magic age of 16, and has been volunteering for over 40 hours, they are eligible to begin handling the Birds Of Prey on a case-by-case basis.  Much of it depends on the person’s understanding of how their body movements and actions affect a bird behaviorally.  If a person is calm and can read the bird’s behavior then progress can be made.

Shayne began handling Birds Of Prey under the close supervision of staff members.  The pictures of Shayne with Oliver the Eastern Screech Owl, shows how much Shayne has advanced.  I love Shayne and his big heart.  I am glad to see this young man make such great progress.

Shayne is now 18 and will be a Senior at Lindbergh High School in August 2015.  His enthusiasm and strong work ethic never ceases to make me smile.

If you are between the ages of 13 and 16 you, too, can be a Junior Volunteer!  If you are 16 or older you can become a full-fledged volunteer eligible to handle birds of prey.  No prior experience with birds is necessary.  All training will be provided under the close supervision of our experienced staff. 

If you are interested in volunteering, go to our website and fill out the junior volunteer application and then be ready to attend our once per month Volunteer Orientation.

Submitted by, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education Michael Zeloski

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Rookie Class of 2015


The arrival of summer at the World Bird Sanctuary can mean only one thing--zoo shows are here!  And by Zoo Shows I of course mean those educational and entertaining programs WBS staff and birds present at zoos around the nation.

With every new zoo show season we have a new class of rookies ready to make their mark.  This year is an especially large graduating class so to speak, because not only do we have brand new birds, but an old pro that has come out of retirement.

Zeus, a young Golden Eagle is one of our new fliers (photo: Gay Schroer)

This year we have one rookie flyer at our Stone Zoo show and five at the Milwaukee County Zoo, plus one returning flyer after a six year vacation.  It is always exciting teaching new birds to fly.  Most new flyers do what I like to call “prong horning,” where they hop straight up into the air and then make a horizontal flight.  This is very common the first several times they take off until they learn how to better control their flights.  Many new fliers also overshoot their landing spots, since they have not yet learned how to apply their brakes or to properly calculate distance.  Discerning the distance to and from a perch and other objects is a skill that birds obtain through practice.

When we first started practicing Zeus our Golden Eagle he would fly away from his stumps if they appeared to be too close to the bleachers.  We moved the stumps and over several days and flying sessions we gradually pushed them back to their original positions.  Now Zeus loves his stumps wherever we place them on stage.

 Technically this is Evita's debut year (photo: Flannery O'brien)

 Even birds that don’t do a whole lot of flying, like Evita the Red-legged Seriema, have to start out slow so that they can get used to new situations.  Technically Evita was in two shows at the very end of the season last year, but this year is her big debut season.  We started out slowly, gradually leading her closer and closer to the stage.  Her first time on the stage she wandered around for five minutes exploring everything the theater had to offer.  After carefully checking out all three sets of bleachers she was ready to exit and hasn’t really wandered since.

The key with rookies is to start small, get the birds used to the behavior or pattern first and then transition it to the theater.  The audience must be built up gradually until they are used to people.  They often need time to check out their new surroundings, either by wandering or sitting on a high perch and just scoping out the area.  Giving a bird time to do this is very important because it makes them feel safe.  They learn the surrounding area, determine that there are no predators and make a mental map so they can get back in case they ever leave the theater.

Chique the Blue-fronted Amazon parrot (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Sherlock an African Pied Crow is currently practicing his recycling routine in his enclosure, but soon we will be able to practice him in the theater.  Chique (a Blue-fronted Amazon parrot) is just starting to do her vocal cues on the hand rather than in her cage.  Once she is comfortable on the hand, she will also move to the stage. 

Azizi the White-bellied Stork rounds out our rookie line-up (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

Our last MCZ rookie is Azizi the White-bellied Stork.  He is learning to follow us, and our trail of meat, wherever we go.  This includes short walks outside of both his indoor and outdoor enclosures.

Skinner the Turkey Vulture is our returning veteran (photo: Flannery O'Brien)

The returning champion is Skinner the Turkey Vulture, who has already proved he is an excellent homing vulture.

Every new zoo show season means a new crop of rookies. Be sure to visit the Milwaukee County Zoo this summer and see Zeus, Azizi, Evita, Sherlock, Chique and Skinner. Also be sure to pay a visit to Roderigo the Common Buzzard up in Boston. Come see all of their hard work pay off.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer





Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Flying Gunk


They say time flies when you are having fun.  This year, I am having more fun than ever working at the World Bird Sanctuary’s Milwaukee County Zoo Bird Show.

Duncan, the Wedge-tailed Eagle executes a beautiful flight (photo: Flannery O'Brien)
However, the birds and time are not the only things that are flying at the bird show.  Blood.  Guts.  Poo.  Slobber.  All of these things are constantly soaring around those of us who work these amazing programs.  Unfortunately, sometimes these soaring pieces of “gunk” find their way onto our arms, face, and even into our mouths.

I like to talk--a lot! (photo: Ian Wright)

I like to talk; a lot.  It’s kind of my thing.  My job sort of requires that I talk constantly and nine times out of ten my sentences seem perfectly timed for my mouth to be open just as the bird is sending a slobber, blood, or meat filled shower my way.  I can talk my way through a lot of unexpected situations, such as a bird deciding it wants to take the scenic route to its perch.  However, when an unwanted bird shower ends up in my mouth, it’s impossible to not be taken aback for a few seconds.

Whiskey Sam Adams, our African Augur Buzzard (photo: Flannery O'Brien)
Earlier this year, our African Augur Buzzard, Whiskey Sam, decided to become a part of the Africa section of the zoo by hanging out in a tree within the Bongo exhibit.  After running out of my long list of “Fun Fowl Facts with Flannery,” I decided to ask the audience for questions.  Of course, the first hand into the air was a little girl in the front row.   She obviously had been itching to ask me the question for a while.  I called on her and she eagerly opened her mouth and asked, “What would happen if a baby was crying and a bird flew over and pooped in that baby’s mouth?”

I love kid questions.  They are so creative.  However this was by far the most creative and unexpected question I have ever been asked.  After hesitating for a moment and rewording the question so everyone could hear, I came up with the only answer I could think of, “Well, the mom would probably run to the bathroom and rinse that baby’s mouth out.”


At the time, that was probably the worst scenario I could have imagined happening with flying bird “gunk.”  Until, that is, a couple of weeks later.  At the end of the show, as I am delivering a particularly delightful conclusion, Clark, our Bald Eagle, decided that the piece of meat he was in the middle of consuming, needed to be shared.  He shook his head and sent a shower of slobbery, disgusting, gooey meat directly towards my face and into my mouth!

All was going well until Clark decided to "share" (photo: Ian Wright)

As mentioned earlier, I can usually pretend the situation never happened and keep talking--but a piece of meat flying into my mouth was not a situation I can handle with much grace.  Instantly, I started sputtering, trying to get the gunk out, but to no avail.  The only thing that resulted was that the speakers were echoing my sputtering into the stands, and that was not professional.  My left hand was in a glove that Clark was seated on top of, and my right was covered in blood and gore from handling food for the rest of the birds.  So I did the only thing I could do.  I took a deep breathe, thought, “Yep, I’m doing this,” swallowed as best I could, and continued with the rest of the conclusion.  The second that show was over, and I had joked with several people about being more patriotic now that the Bald Eagle had given me that deliciously disgusting piece of food, I gracefully put Clark down, and did exactly what I had told the little girl.  I ran to the sink and rinsed my mouth profusely with water.

When you work with animals, you sign up for the fun things like speaking shows and watching a bird problem-solve on its own.  You also sign up for the not so fun stuff, like scrubbing poo and apparently sometimes sharing their dinners.  It was easily the most disgusting experience of my life, but that was the moment I knew that I was hooked on this career and that I found where I belong.  Because if I can suck it up, eat a ball of slobber and gore, and still keep a smile on my face, I can do anything that this job throws at me.  Literally.

Submitted by Flannery O’Brien, World Bird Sanctuary Milwaukee County Zoo Show Naturalist/Trainer