Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Audience Questions

“You have the coolest job.”  “I want to be just like you when I get bigger.”  “You must love coming to work every day.”  “I love seeing the birds!”  These are just a few of the comments World Bird Sanctuary bird show presenters hear every day.  And I must tell you, it never gets old!

Cupid the American Barn Owl flying into trainer's glove - photo by Lisa McCabe

However, there is something even better than compliments.  And what’s that, you may ask?  The questions!  From my two years’ experience working with birds at World Bird Sanctuary’s Milwaukee County Zoo bird show and five years of working in a zoo, I have found that questions from the general public about animals can be broken up into 3 categories.
Buford the Bald Eagle out in the public display area - photo by Erica Fenske

General Animal Questions.  These common questions are usually about age, species, or name.  Every once in a while though you get the really good ones--the ones that challenge you as a trainer.  With only two years under my belt, I get challenged every day.  But the wonderful thing about being challenged is that it gives me an excuse to ask even more questions!  If someone asks me how many feathers are on a bird’s head, I ask my supervisor how many are on their entire body.  If someone asks what a bird eats, I ask specifically what species.  No matter how much I learn there is always something more to learn!  I ask questions every single day and as much as I can to improve myself, so I can improve how I do my job.

How Can You Do This?  As weird as it sounds, I enjoy answering these.  No matter which species you work with, you sometimes get a “non-zoo person” who can’t fathom the idea of animals in captivity and find our career choices as “wrong.”  You can’t help but be frustrated at first, but that is why we do what we do.  Having the animals on display only fulfills part of their duties as ambassadors of their species.  We are here to fulfill the other half by explaining to people how they are doing it.  No, we don’t take perfectly healthy animals out of the wild.  No, they are not miserable.  Yes we take the best care possible of them and give them the best lives they could ever imagine.  Explaining these concepts, one person at a time, makes me feel like I am making a difference in the world.  And, hopefully if we educate enough people, we can help animals everywhere.

Scarlett the Red Shouldered Hawk - photo by Erica Fenske

How Do I Get a Job Like This?  Now THIS is my favorite question.  I love when children/young adults ask me this question because I wish I had asked it more myself when I was their age!  It shows that people care and more people out there want to serve our purpose--to educate the world about these amazing and beautiful creatures.  By now I have my basic response--get a science related college degree, do lots of volunteer/internship work, and most of all, have lots of determination.  Even though it is such a basic response, no one ever walks away looking discouraged, and that is the best feeling in the WORLD!  Yes, flying a Bald Eagle is a pretty amazing feeling, but knowing I might have just inspired someone to help eagles fly longer in the wild is a much cooler feeling!

So all in all, always ask questions.  And if you don’t know the answer, ask even more questions.  Questions are limitless and no one should ever stop asking!  A very wise teacher once told me that, “Any day that you don’t learn something new is a wasted day.”

Submitted by Erica Fenske, World Bird Sanctuary Seasonal Zoo Show Staff Member

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