Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Rookie Files: And we’re back!

Hello again dear reader! After a long, wonderful show season, I, Leah Tyndall, zoo show supervisor for World Bird Sanctuary, have returned to WBS headquarters.
The WBS Educational Training Center (ETC) 
It was an exciting and at times exhausting season in which I both taught and learned.  The time has come however to hang up the microphone, unclip the show pouch, and settle in for the winter.

Winter, or the “off season”, is drastically different than show season (April through September).  Not just because we are no longer doing shows every day, but because our jobs shift from educator to keeper.  The Education Training Center (ETC) is where show birds vacation during the winter. 
Outdoor mews where native and cold hardy species are housed in winter
Native or cold hardier species are put into free loft, or large outdoor enclosures, that allow space to fly if the birds wish.  The cold sensitive species spend the off-season free lofted in large, indoor pens.  There are a few birds that remain on equipment (anklets and jesses) for health or training reasons, but even those birds are on vacation.

It falls to us to act as the resort staff and make sure that all of the birds remain happy and healthy during their stay.  This is more than just feeding and enriching the birds with toys.  It also means upgrades in housekeeping chores and tasks that we do not have to worry about quite as much during show season.  These include changing shavings on indoor enclosure floors, keeping water bowls and outdoor pools clean, maintaining and raking the outdoor mews, as well as switching out old with new perches to make sure that their feet stay in good condition.
The heated indoor enclosures where more cold sensitive species are housed in winter
This period of time is also key in shaping and maintaining behaviors that will be useful during the show season.  Things like perching on command, waiting until a piece of food is thrown, crating, and response to verbal commands are all very important come show season. 

These actions are also helpful for husbandry reasons.  A vulture that knows how to wait in a particular spot when cued to do so, will do so on the scale instead of rushing its trainer in search of food (which is greatly preferable).  A territorial bird that crates makes changing shavings and cleaning pens much safer. 

In order to maintain these behaviors, all of the birds inside of the ETC work for their food.  This not only helps us, but it also keeps the birds entertained throughout the winter.  This is especially important for the more intelligent birds such as corvids, parrots and vultures.  If these species become bored they may resort to other means to amuse themselves--methods that could be destructive to themselves, their caretakers or their housing.

The Education and Training Center is also just that, a training center.  Since we are behind the scenes we can afford to spend more of our time training new birds--be they juveniles that have just been put on equipment, adult birds pulled from free loft or birds new to the sanctuary.  All of them need to be trained before they can be used for education or in shows.  This also helps to keep our bird training and observation skills sharp for the coming show season.

Even though there is nothing quite like show season, the slower more easygoing pace of the off-season has its charms as well.  It gives us a chance to maintain behaviors, entertain the birds and improve on our own training skills. All of which are incredibly important….not to mention, “concierge to a Bald Eagle,” looks great on a résumé. 

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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