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.
Before joining the Wildlife Center in August, I was definitely more of a “reptile person”. I love snakes and turtles and lizards, and I have had plenty of experience handling and caring for reptiles. So, I was immediately comfortable working with our education reptiles, like Severus the Eastern Ratsnake and Wilson the Eastern Box Turtle.
Raptors? Not so much. In fact, I had never handled a raptor before arriving at the Wildlife Center. So the thought of working with our education raptors on a daily basis was a bit daunting at first.
I admit I was nervous when Amanda Nicholson and I decided to re-train Ruby, our Red-tailed Hawk. Ruby had been worked with before, but we wanted to put her through a different, fresh intensive style of training (inspired by Dr. Dave McRuer) to develop her into the “perfect” animal ambassador.
The "bird boot camp" involved bringing Ruby inside to live in the Outreach Room just a few feet away from my desk. During the day, she was tethered to a perch in an area where she could be exposed to increased activity and stimuli. The training also required Amanda and me to have Ruby on the glove for several hours every day, feed her a daily meal of mice, and introduce her to new experiences.
Three things happened during the month that Ruby spent living inside;  I became proficient at doing things one-handed;  Ruby's confidence increased; and  so did mine.
Training Ruby has been as much of a learning experience for me as it has been for Ruby. I learned about bird behavior and positive reinforcement. Ruby learned that sitting on the glove was a great place to be, mostly because she'd sometimes get food. I learned how to be confident in handling a large, Red-tailed Hawk. Ruby learned how to (calmly) exit her crate.
After spending a month inside, "bird boot camp" came to an end, and Ruby was moved back outside to her enclosure. It's been about two months since she was moved back outside, and our training has continued for almost every day since. Ruby and I have developed a relationship that works for both of us; I think she's an amazing hawk -- and she thinks I'm a great source of food.
I'm incredibly impressed with the progress both of us made during this whole process, and I'm so excited to continue my work with Ruby and other raptors here at the Wildlife Center.
Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!