Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Trainer's Pride

The end of the year is a time for reflection. You look back on how you grew throughout the year, what you learned, the mistakes you made, and the risks you took.

I reflected a few years back about how I became a bird person (a total surprise to me) and then later a parrot person( again a shock).  This year, though, is the year that I finally feel like a bird trainer.

I started with World Bird Sanctuary as an intern in 2008.  From there I was given command of our Grant’s Farm show; six display birds and one flyer, but all of the birds were already trained and established in their patterns before I came along.  In 2009 I went to my first World Bird Sanctuary zoo show program, where we present bird programs for zoo guests for a whole summer, and learned a lot.  In 2010 I was an assistant supervisor, and in 2011 I became supervisor of a zoo show.  For all of those years, though, I was either in the beginning stages or just did not know enough to feel confident in my own ability.  By 2012 I felt better, trained a few birds and started training Zeus our almost 2 year old Golden Eagle. It wasn’t until the other day though that everything really clicked.
Zeus taking food from my glove

I was standing in the atrium of Zeus’ outdoor mew watching a fellow staff member work with Zeus on the glove for their first time.  I was nervous I’ll admit.  I still remember walking Zeus around before he had anything attached to his legs that I could hold onto.  I remember when he would try and crawl up my glove, or hop off and over to his training perch.  I was picturing the countless training sessions, when we first started out, where he would not come down to his perch.  Just then he stepped up.  He let my co-worker lock his jesses.  He delicately took food from her hand and then stepped back onto the perch—beautiful!…and it hit me!   I helped do that! 

I helped take a bird that was parent raised and basically wild, who wanted nothing to do with people, and I taught it to sit on a glove.  Countless people aided in Zeus’ training and I know they all must share the same sense of pride, because it was amazing.  Suddenly I flashed back to Zeus coming to the training perch for the first time, taking a piece of food with me watching, then standing next to the perch, his first step up, his first walk around his enclosure, the first time he stepped up after being put on equipment…I could go on and on.  It was an amazing moment for me, and at first I thought it was an epiphany, but then I recalled a similar feeling from this summer when Reese flew in our shows.
 Reese during an early-on training session trying to figure out why he was not rewarded for flying to the vending machine...it was flat topped like his stump!
We took Reese, our one year old at the time, Great Horned Owl to the Milwaukee County Zoo for the summer season so that he could get used to the daily routine of being a zoo show bird.  Then we got ambitious and decided to train him to free fly.  For the final month of shows Reese flew in shows.  His first show I could not have been more proud of him!  I think I made that poor audience applaud for him about five different times!  He flew perfectly, didn’t even glance at the audience and flew for larger and larger crowds.  I may have stopped talking briefly because I was smiling so hard.  There is no feeling in the world quite like watching your bird do what you trained it to do…except maybe parental pride?  I wonder if I can get a bumper sticker for my bird’s accomplishments.
Reese making a spot-on landing on his stump--and about to collect his reward

A few years ago if you had asked me what exactly I do, I would have told you that I work with birds.  Last year I might have said I help train birds.  This year however I finally feel like I train the birds, and though I am still learning more and more every day and seeking help when I need it, it is an amazing feeling! 

Honestly the sense of pride I get when watching my birds is quite possibly the best way I could ever think of to end 2013, and who knows what adventures await me in 2014.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer


Katie Stamm said...

Congratulations, Leah! :)

Barb Cerutti said...

But of course your hard work paid off. Keep up with the amazing work!

Alex Echenberg said...

I can't believe I missed this post back in January! So excited to see these pictures of Reese. Tell him his first mom is proud of him and send him my love! Thank you for giving him such a wonderful life and allowing him to teach people about wildlife! <3

- Alex Echenberg