It happened kind of accidentally. I started volunteering at Eagle Heights 13 years ago when I was an early teenager because they had a big reptile house and I have always had a passion for reptiles. They also had a small mammal section which I helped out on too - meerkats, otters, coati, and farm animals. I volunteered with these animals for 4 years. All that time I watched the bird staff from the sidelines and was fascinated by their job and the birds themselves.
I finally plucked up the courage to say I wanted to get more involved with the birds and my wish was granted. After a couple more years of volunteering with them, I got offered full time work at another collection. A few years on I decided to leave and found my way back at Eagle Heights working with the huskies - we have a large working kennel of rescues. I did this for a year until a member of the bird team left and they needed to fill his place. Because of my previous experience volunteering with the birds I was a pretty good candidate as I knew all the birds very well, and got offered the role! So I've been working with the birds full time now for 3 years.
I start my working day at 9am. I start by heading up to the main mews which is where our current team of demo eagles and vultures live in their individual freelofted avairys. Once they are all cleaned and their water is all changed I will start weighing them, which we do daily. First I weigh the falcons and hawks and then put them out to weather. Next I move onto the owls - weigh, fly and feed accordingly.
Then it's time to see what other avairies need cleaning for the day. I spend a couple of hours doing this or if they are all up to date I'll do some maintenance work or make some enrichment for the birds, and then my favourite time of the day...lunch!
At 1pm I start exercising birds, so it's back up to the main mews where I fly all our demo eagles, vultures, striated caracara and more! Then I might grab a quick tea and move onto flying the 2 falcons we currently have on the team. Finally I finish up with the 3 harris hawks. It's about 4pm now, so it's time to feed all the breeding avairies. Finally - clean up the mess I've undoubtedly made throughout the day, get food out to defrost for the next day and then home time!
When we're open to public my morning routine is the same, and then I'll do a midday flying demo and a 3pm flying demo. In between demos I'll be squeezing in lunch and cleaning avairys/maintenance.
I recently went on my honeymoon to Zambia and whilst there on safari we saw a breeding pair of crowned eagles. They were a complete surprise to everyone including our tour guide, because they hadn't been seen in the reserve for 25 years! On our last day we were lucky enough to witness the male successfully kill a baby warthog and carry it back to the nest and we even got a tiny glimpse of their chick. In fact all the birds of prey I saw out there were memorable.
Being able to see birds I work with on a daily basis in the wild was very special. Word got out that I worked with birds whilst we were there and the owner managed to arrange for my husband and I to assist in the release of an African white backed vulture who had been in rehabilitation after being electrocuted on a power line. It was a very special moment.
Education, education, education! With all species regarding conservation and threats in the wild, but right now especially with vultures. People are completely unaware of how much of a bad time they're having in the wild at the moment, and it tends to be because they're not cute and cuddley. Bringing awareness to their decline and educating people on how awesome they really are is crucial!
Patience. Lots of it! A lot of the time with birds it feels like you are taking one step forward and 2 steps back. But with some time and patience you will get there. It also taught me you have to work hard if you want to get anywhere.
Before I started actually working with them, I thought it looked like a very glamourous job. But how wrong was I?! Even as a senior member of staff, most of my day is still picking up poop. If anyone thinks that is below them, then a job with birds is not for them!
A harpy or a philippine eagle, because you've gotta dream big!