It’s time to look back on 2021! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2021 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
Even though I started working at the Wildlife Center of Virginia near the end of this year, I have already participated in many memorable experiences. When I look back on 2021, the most prominent memory I have is my very first interaction with a Great Horned Owl.
When I first started at the Center, the WCV team allowed me to shadow the veterinary department for a day. WCV encourages all new employees to spend some days shadowing different departments so they earn a better understanding of how our Center functions as a whole unit. I shadowed on a day of “feet and feathers” in which the vet team checks the condition of the feet and feathers of raptor patients. Because I was in need of raptor handling experience, the vet team allowed me to contain and restrain smaller screech-owl patients and help assess the condition of a Great Blue Heron. After finishing with the patients in the smaller aviaries, veterinary intern Dr. Jennifer Yu led us to the large flight pens that housed Papa G’Ho and the Great Horned Owlets of 2021.
I had completely expected to watch as the veterinary externs contained these large owls, but Dr. Yu handed me a pair of large handling gloves and safety goggles. The owlets were almost fully grown, and had adult plumage and large ear tufts. While I was excited to interact with a species that I had never before seen, I could feel a pit of anxiety grow as I approached one of the owlets. When you are looking into the eyes of a large raptor while he clicks his beak and puffs out his feathers, you forget that you’re almost three times his size. I felt incredibly tiny in comparison to the animal in front of me.
I wish I could say I overcame my fears and majestically caught this large bird after the first few tries, but I did not. It took many tries, multiple awkward leaps into the air, and a lot of careful instruction from the vet team. Eventually, I caught one of the owlets by the ankle, cautiously restrained his feet, and was able to hold him while the vet team counted and noted the condition of each of his flight feathers and each of his toes. After the owlet was evaluated, I released him back into the flight pen where he would spend the night in mouse school, learning how to catch live prey.
I remember walking out of the flight pen, heart pounding, shocked by the experience I just had. Working with the vet team certainly offered a better understanding of that department, but it also reminded me of the physical and emotional strength required for this field. I helped the vet team evaluate many different animals that day and saw some disheartening trauma cases. The experience gave me new appreciation for my coworkers and all of the work they do to keep this facility active, teach the public about environmental protection, and provide life-saving care to thousands of wildlife patients every year.
-- Lilly Farmer, Front-desk Coordinator