Friday, February 10, 2012

My Ah-Hah! Moment

I’m very fortunate to have a job that I enjoy doing.  Every morning, I wake up excited to come to work.

I get to work with amazing animals, learn from the rest of the knowledgeable staff at the World Bird Sanctuary and share my passion for birds with the visitors who come to the Sanctuary.  However, I wasn’t always a “bird nerd.”  In fact, I’ve come a long way from where I thought I would be five years ago…
Emily (in blue) puts her theater experience to good use while performing with the Raptor Project
Back in high school, I was an avid performer.  The Drama Club was my home base, and I never missed an opportunity to audition for a school play.  I carried this love of theatre with me to college, where I was convinced that I was going to major in theater and continue on to Broadway.  I stuck with the major for about a year…   but somewhere along the line, I became unconvinced that theater was the path for me.  Though theater was very enjoyable to me, I was unwilling to leave St. Louis to pursue a career in New York or L.A.  There was also the chance that I might not be discovered… and remain a starving artist for a good while.  Because of this unappealing prospect, I began to look elsewhere for something that would stir my passions.
Always keep the binoculars handy
Even back when I was a drama kid, I had always enjoyed watching the birds come hang out at the feeder in the back yard.  I observed legions of cardinals, titmice, chickadees and juncos every winter.  When my mom would tell me to go fill the bird feeder, I would happily slip on the closest boots and coat and trudge through the snow to the feeder, filling it with delicious black oil sunflower seeds to keep our visitors happy.  The summer after my freshman year of college I paid closer attention than ever to the birds that came to the feeder…now observing the summer residents of goldfinches, house finches, and Eurasian tree sparrows.  Maybe in this hobby I could find something exciting… but it was the appearance of a completely new and extraordinary bird that cemented my passions.
My Ah-Ha! bird--a Pileated Woodpecker
I was in the backyard with my mom, planting flowers around the perimeter of our patio.  She and I had been talking for days about what I could major in, now that I was no longer sure about theatre.  As we were talking, we heard a strange call coming from the front of the house.  It was a kind of laughing call--raucous and loud.  We stopped to listen, following the sound from the front of the house to the side yard… and then, an enormous bird flap-bounded into view.  It flowed gracefully up through the yard and perched on the side of a redbud tree trunk some hundred yards away from us.  Its matte black back and white facial stripes were clearly visible, as was its massive beak.  But the most striking part of this bird was the flame-red crest crowning its head.  I was beside myself.  I had read about these birds before, of course.  They were legendary in my family, not one of us having had more than a glimpse before, and now, here it was clinging so quietly to the side of the tree, as though saying, “You wanted to see me?  Well, here I am!”  My mom and I watched in awe for a solid five minutes until the bird flew away, presumably to inspire another birdwatcher.
Emily finds her theater training helps with presenting education programs to large audiences
Seeing that Pileated Woodpecker was my “Ah-Hah!” moment.  Before that point, I was unsure of myself--unsure as to where my life was going to go.  After that moment, and that bird, the pieces all started to fall into place.  I changed my major from theater to biology.  I started reading up on all of the ornithological literature I could find.  I birded like crazy during my family vacation to Michigan that year… and I visited a place called World Bird Sanctuary, to inquire about an internship… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Submitted by Emily Hall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

1 comment:

Aviaries said...

I found your article interesting and summarize the situation perfectly. You passion about birds really shows. Excellent post!