Friday, September 26, 2014

Height: Help or Hindrance

I'm easy to pick out of a crowd, and I've heard the question, "How tall are you," too many times to count.  My height (I'm 6'6") has been helpful for most of my life, but when I started working for World Bird Sanctuary’s bird show at the Milwaukee County Zoo, I considered it more of a hindrance at times.

I started volunteering at WBS’s nature center in February 2014 because I could work with both the birds and reptiles there, and at the same time interact with the public.  I found my niche in the daily chores, but I wanted to help more with the animals, especially the birds.  Once I started handling the birds, I wanted to participate more in their flying exercises.  When Jeff noticed my thirst for knowledge and drive to help out more, he recommended I try the bird show.  That is how I ended up becoming a trainer in Milwaukee for the summer.

Being tall has many perks when it comes to bird shows.  During the initial setup, it helped in the construction of the outdoor bird enclosures, since I could reach on top of them without any problems.

When it came time to shape birds’ flying patterns, I got designated the "official creance tester" (creance being a long line used in initial raptor free flight training), since during later training I could place birds on high perches others couldn't reach.  The main advantage I utilize every day is that I don't have to use a step stool to reach into the raptor's night stalls (picture below).  This helps me get them out of their stalls faster and easier during the morning weigh/change and later during shows for faster transitions.

Cleaning the stalls (photo by Erika Fenske) 
While being tall has some advantages when working with the birds, it also has some  disadvantages when it comes to training and doing shows with them.  My size tended to intimidate/scare a lot of the birds at first (and still does for some), so I have to limit my interactions with them during the initial stages of training.  When it comes to shows I have learned to adjust my height a lot, because the fence covering the behind the scenes area is only 6' in most places.  So, I have to crouch a lot to hide my movements from both the audience and the birds on stage. 

"Hidey ho neighbor"–A Wilson quote from the Tim Allen Show, Home Improvement (photo: Erica Fenske)
I have accepted the fact that I'm tall and I can't do anything about it.  That just means I have to devise new techniques to work with the World Bird Sanctuary’s amazing birds while doing bird shows.

Submitted by William Oberbeck III, World Bird Sanctuary’s Milwaukee Zoo Bird Show Trainer/Naturalist

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