Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Day In The Life....of a Zoo Show Trainer

After being a volunteer at the World Bird Sanctuary headquarters since I was thirteen, I thought I’d gotten a decent handle on the various day-to-day tasks and how they impact the birds in each section of the Sanctuary.  It wasn’t until I moved to Milwaukee for the summer to work World Bird Sanctuary’s bird show at the Milwaukee County Zoo that I learned just how intricately related the tasks and birds really are. 
Buford the Bald Eagle being weighed
The first new adjustment I had to make was that of the start time – my workdays start at 8 AM and run until around 5:30 PM.  These days are filled with things all of which need to be done to keep the birds we work with happy and healthy.  The first of these tasks is weighing the birds, and we have 18 birds to weigh.  Keeping tabs on the weights of our birds is the best way to make sure that they are healthy. 

After being weighed, the birds move outside to hang out and soak up the sun until it’s time for our first show of the day.

Before the first show can begin, the cleaning must happen.  As you can imagine, 18 birds can create a lot of cleaning to do, as well as a lot of bird food to prepare.  Once the food is prepared, the birds are brought back closer to our building so they can be on hand for the show. 
An audience member receiving instructions for her part in the show
During the shows there is audience participation, which a trainer will explain to the participating audience member before the show begins.  The lucky audience member chosen gets to help demonstrate just how easy it is to recycle by having our Pied Crow fly to them, take a can or a plastic bottle, and fly back to the recycling bin and drop it in.
Othello playing his favorite game--rings
After the show is over, if the Pied Crow or the White-necked Raven has any leftover food, we either make them a toy, or play a game with them.  One of Othello’s (the Pied Crow) favorite games is rings.  In this game, rings get stacked based on color and size until they have all been stacked.  Once the game has been completed, they get rewarded with the extra food, because let’s face it, food is a great reinforcement.
Othello being rewarded for stacking the rings correctly
Depending on how much cleaning was finished before the first two shows, the time before the third show is either spent finishing up the last bit of cleaning, catching up on news from various places, or enjoying a bit of a well-earned break.  Then, on to the third show, after which we give our birds some time to sit and digest their food.  After they have digested, all of the birds are moved inside for the night.
Reese the Great Horned Owl flying stump to stump
After all of the shows for the day have been completed comes training time for our newer birds.  The places we train the bird’s free flight patterns depend on the birds themselves.  Sometimes the bird will be flown stump-to-stump, such is the case with our one-year old Great Horned Owl, Reese.  Instead of giving Reese his treats out of the glove, we instead put the treats on the stumps to help visually reinforce flying to them.  After Reese is done flying, we bring him inside to let him take a break and digest his food.

Finally, once everyone has digested their food, we check all of the birds, as well as all of the various books we record information in throughout the day, to make sure everything is good for the night.  After everything has been checked, we head out to return to our apartment to relax, eat dinner, and turn in for the night in order to repeat it all the next day.

Submitted by Matthew Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Zoo Show Staff Member

1 comment:

Alex Echenberg said...

Hey Matthew! Great photo of Reese in flight! I'm the one who raised him after he was abandoned. We sent him to WBS from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX. I'd love to hear how he's doing or see more pictures. If there's any way we can connect, let me know. Thanks!
- Alex Echenberg
(look me up on FB, or my email is akechenberg@gmail.com)