2012 Year in Review: Amanda Nicholson, Director of Outreach

Last year, many of our staff, students, and volunteers recounted their most memorable moments of 2011. We had so much fun reading and sharing these stories, we thought we’d do it again! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2012 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.

I have LOTS of great 2012 memories. New patients … the debut of several new Critter Cams … the GN Reveal. But I’ll also remember 2012 as a year in which I connected, in a new way, with the Center’s wildlife ambassadors. Before I became the director of the Center’s  outreach department, I had worked as a wildlife rehabilitator.   As a rehabber, I provided care for the education animals by feeding them, cleaning out enclosures, and generally just keeping tabs on how they were doing.

But in my new position, I had to learn to handle these animals for programs or events – to get comfortable with them, so that we’d both be comfortable working with each other in front of groups of adults or excited children.

One of my special relationships developed with Chayton, our education Peregrine Falcon. Chayton has recurring foot issues – something we will always need to monitor closely. In the summer of 2012, Chayton had a major set-back with the health of his feet – and ended up back inside, being treated for bumblefoot. Because Chayton is a trained education ambassador, there was no need for him to be hospitalized in the Center’s holding room – a room designed to be as stress-free and off-limits as possible for recovering wild patients. We set Chayton up in the outreach room, where he would go into a large crate at night, but could come out and be tethered to a perch during the day – making his life much more interesting. The routine of getting him out and tethering him each morning, fastidiously cleaning his perches, and “tucking him in” at night has been going on for more than four months now.

Throughout this process, I’ve had a lot of contact with him and have been absolutely amazed at how patient he is with the entire process. Despite all of the extra “man-handling” by the vet staff (who have taken amazing care of him), he still eagerly hops up on my glove when asked (and sometimes without even asking!). Chayton makes me smile every time I see him, especially in the afternoons as he listens very carefully for the sound of the door to the hospital opening and shutting -- usually indicating that a rehabber or student is on the way with his food.

I also feel more connected with Ruby, our education Red-tailed Hawk. Prior to this fall, Ruby had traveled on a couple of programs, but she had proven to be a slightly erratic and nervous bird – likely due to her missing eye and the fact that she came to us as a mature hawk. Raina and I knew that we needed to get Ruby used to us if she was going to be a traveling educational ambassador, so for about four weeks this fall, Ruby moved into the outreach room. When we first moved her inside, Ruby seemed like a stand-offish bird to me, and I certainly didn’t have a sense of her personality. After several weeks of working with her, she settled down and clearly began to recognize Raina and me (the bringers of food) – and we were able to see her transform into a really remarkable bird once she became more comfortable with us. Getting to that point where suddenly a bird seems to "know" you is an incredible feeling. Raina is now regularly using Ruby for on- and off-site programs.

We’re currently using these same principles to train a new education Barred Owl. More about that later … but suffice it to say that I have been spending a lot of time with this new “officemate”  – you’ll hear more about him/her in 2013 – but Raina and I are very excited!

I recognize that all of this makes my job very unique, and very fun!  I’ve been told many times over the past couple of weeks, “Your job is so cool. I wish I could hang out with a Barred Owl every day.”  I feel very fortunate and privileged that I do get to form these relationships and do what I do every day.

--Amanda Nicholson

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!


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