Monday, October 19, 2015

A Summer To Remember

At some point in our lives we have all been stamped with the title of being a “first timer.” Whether it is your first time attending college, working at your first real job, or being a part of a major accomplishment, there is always a first time for everything.

This year especially has resulted in a lot of “firsts” for me, including my first time as a speaker and bird trainer for the World Bird Sanctuary bird shows presented at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  I started off as an intern for the World Bird Sanctuary, or WBS, during the fall after I graduated from college.

My internship taught me a lot about handling, and caring for birds of prey, as well as all the educational aspects.  I learned a lot, but I still wanted to learn more, so I entered into my next “first” as a trainer for the Milwaukee County Zoo bird shows.

Clark the Bald Eagle ready for takeoff (photo: Sandra Lowe) 

I fell into the role of a trainer immediately when arriving at our bird show headquarters.  There, I began establishing relationships with all the birds.  Each bird had a different personality.  So, while one method may work for one bird, that same approach did not work for all of them. 

For instance, I learned that talking in a stern, dominant tone of voice worked well for Vader, our black vulture, and Skinner, our turkey vulture in order for them to obey my commands.  However, Hugnin, our white-necked raven, as well as Carmen and Trinidad, our military macaws required a more up-beat, happy tone of voice.  Along with the tone of voice, I had to have a strong, confident demeanor with all the birds. This is because birds of prey can sense any signs of tension or fear, which can ultimately result in a negative response from the bird.

Clark the Bald Eagle launching into a spectacular flight practically at eye level for the audience (photo: Sandra Lowe)

Learning all of this helped boost my confidence when it came to my next “first” as a speaker.  However, speaking in front of crowds was my number one fear, so learning to overcome this obstacle challenged my confidence once again.  With the help of my coworkers, especially my supervisor Leah Tyndall, my confidence in speaking strengthened with every practice show I did. 

I received a lot of tips that helped me along the way.  One particular tip I received was from the director of WBS, Jeff Meshach, after an extremely embarrassing and nerve wracking practice show in front of him.  I was extremely confident and full of excitement throughout the show, until I reached the part where I needed to use my glove, or Kalem, for the first time and to my dismay I did not have it with me!  I quickly asked for one of the other trainers to fetch my glove as I tried miserably to form coherent sentences.

However, once I received the glove I began to break down even more, so much so that I asked for a moment to recuperate. First, I heard Leah in the background yelling “It’s ok Candice!”  Then Jeff, sounding completely surprised, encouraged me to keep going.  I took a deep breath and then continued on.  My voice became more confident with every bird I presented.  Once the show was over, everyone gathered around Jeff to hear his thoughts and recommendations. He was extremely proud of the show I presented despite the minor hurdle I had to overcome.  The tip that Jeff gave to me was to keep speaking and remain calm no matter what happens.

I took this encouragement to heart, which helped fuel my confidence for my first show in front of an audience.  My first show was one of the many great shows that I would be presenting for the remainder of the summer.

The experience at the Milwaukee County Zoo bird shows has helped me to overcome my fear of speaking in ways that I can’t even fathom.  I would like to thank my boss and Director of the World Bird Sanctuary Jeff Meshach, Supervisor Leah Tyndall, and everyone else who has supported me for helping me overcome my fear and making this summer one to remember.

Submitted by Candice Aton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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