Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meanwhile . . . back at Grant's Farm . . .

As a follow-up to my first blog, I wanted to write about my experience working at Grant’s Farm and the various things I came to learn about preparing for an animal show with birds of prey.

The Animal Encounter shows started at first on weekends-only in April.  From May until August they are every day except Mondays.  There was a lot of preparation that needed to be done before the first show. The things I needed to get set up seemed like an endless list, and Billie Baumann (she does the shows on Tuesdays when I'm off) was great at helping me get everything ready for the birds.

To name just some of the things we needed to gather to get started at Grant’s Farm, there were; cleaning supplies, newspapers, water bowls, a stepstool, a weighing scale, a bag for collecting molted feathers, sisal rope for wrapping bow perches, bird crates (6 plus 2 for the eagles),  gloves (casting and nylon) and my uniforms. The people at Grant’s Farm did a great job building the special, indoor perches for our seven birds in the zoo barn (where I had to be aware of the temperature changes; a heater kept it above 50 degrees in the spring and two large fans are kept on throughout the summer).

For the first time ever the birds in the show, and even a few others, are on display in a special exhibit.  The Grant’s Farm people prepared the exhibit area with new bedding (wood chips), a really nice weathering sign and new impressive-looking personalized signs for the birds (these signs have both information about the birds and pictures taken of the birds themselves). They also got a new pump for the waterfall in the exhibit after the old one stopped working.
Grant's Farm exhibit area
To be ready for the shows, Billie and I had to work with and train both of the flying birds which turned out to be quite an experience. Stetson (a Harris Hawk) was really grumpy from being taken out of free loft and Riley (a Barn owl) was unmotivated and distracted. Both received special training and we spent a lot of practice time with both birds. It seemed to take a long time just to get Stetson to jump from glove to glove. Now Riley flies great in the shows and Stetson has only an occasional wrong flightJ.

Although, we recently had to change Stetson’s routine when he began showing very little interest in flying. Instead of placing his rewards for flying on top of the tree perches on stage, I’ve started placing them in plastic cups attached just behind both of the perches. This now seems to keep his interest, because every reward is a surprise.

It was difficult in the beginning learning to change jesses of the flying birds. The flying birds have a specific pair of “flying” jesses used for their safety if they should fly off.  Now I am able to avoid their beaks and feet as I change the jesses. Both birds also got reward tags in case they should be lost.

After getting the script for the shows, it was just a matter of making a daily schedule.

Maintaining the health of the birds is of course another very important aspect of working at Grants Farm. Weigh and rejuve day is fun when avoiding being pecked or bitten.

Maintaining Riley and Stetson’s flying weights keeps them food motivated and also took practice using a formula for figuring the amounts of food they get. Both Mars (Red-tailed hawk) and Carmelita (Great Horned owl) are older birds and both had to take some time at the rehabilitation hospital; Mars was put on antibiotics for a sinus infection and Carmelita had her eyes looked at for what was said to be a progressive age-related condition (Carmilita was hatched in 1982!).

Prius (a Peregrine Falcon/Gyrfalcon hybrid) had to have her tomial tooth (a special beak point that only falcons have) filed and each of the birds at one time or another have been looked at for talon and beak trims (birds continually grow their talons and beaks, and in captivity don’t wear them down as much as they would in the wild).

At Grant’s Farm, I had to learn the specific behaviors of each of the eight birds taken there. Both Bald Eagles utilized in the shows, Sanibel and McGwire, sometimes try to fly off the glove. McGwire was worked with behind the exhibit area.

It probably shocked many, and it alarmed me at first, when I saw Carmelita lying flat with her wings spread on the ground. I’ll always remember a woman saying something like, “Your bird is dead.”   Carm was actually just fine.  This was Carm’s behavior when sun bathing.

The response from the public has been great and I love working with each of these birds, which includes Riley, Stetson, Prius, Mars, Shadow (Bateleur eagle), Carmelita, McGwire and Sanibel. I also can’t forget the two eagles kept in our eagle exhibit, Murphy and Largo.

People are always commenting that I must love my job and I can earnestly say I do. I am very grateful that I get to work with these wonderful birds and fly them in the shows.

Submitted by Whitney Cowan, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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