And now, exclusively on beginningtobird, presented live and in color and in NibbleVision, it's Susan... Gets... Native! Let's give her a nice round of applause, folks!
Susan, welcome to beginningtobird. You list your occupation as "Director of Education, RAPTOR Inc." How'd you get this gig? Is it an 8-5 thing, plus an hour for lunch? How would one apply for such a position?
I got the gig at RAPTOR thus: I started volunteering on Saturdays, when all the cleaning and feeding take place. Someone has to clean the cages we keep our live mice colony, someone has to pick up all the "leftover" food in the birds' mews (cages), someone has to then clean the mews with a rake and hose, and then someone has to feed all the birds. Anyway, during one Saturday, I asked about the educational programs RAPTOR does, and when I heard how cool it sounded, I said it was interesting to me. Turns out that the current director was leaving, because he had found a "real" job teaching, so the position was going to be open. So they trained me to handle the birds and gave me a basic outline for programs. I shadowed the director a few times, held the birds, got comfortable, and I have now done a few hundred programs! It's not an 8 to 5 thing...it's whenever the requester wants it. I have done programs at 8 am and also at midnight. To apply for such a position, I guess you could contact a rescue/rehab center and do it like I did...get your feet wet in the organization and display a distinct interest.
General facts are not funny, exactly, but there are funny stories about some of our education birds. Earl the turkey vulture, for example, has escaped twice, and has flown up to the nunnery that is near RAPTOR and tapped on the windows, frightening the nuns. They called us and Earl was easily recaptured. Earl is fully flighted, but is a human imprint (she thinks she is a person) She was brought in after someone had removed her from her nest as a baby, and tried to raise her by feeding her raw hamburger and chicken breast. She was very thin when she was brought in, so it was assumed she was a male. And a few years later, she laid an egg. So we knew she was a female, but the name Earl stuck.
Tell us about this whole "gets native" thing -- is it hard? Do you still have to mow the lawn?
Get native...my favorite subject, other than birds of prey!
Why are native plants important? They are food sources for other native organisms, like birds. They have evolved along side these animals, and are perfectly adapted to survive and thrive in their native environment. You rarely have to water them, you don't have to fertilize them. I have a "prairie" in the back yard, planted with mostly native plants...a few exotics have raised their heads, but I kept them because they have seeds for birds.
I do mow the lawn, but the total area is lessened because a third of the back yard is the prairie. We also keep the corners "brushy" and we build brush piles along the borders of our property to provide cover for small birds and mammals. We don't use ANY weed killer, pesticides or fertilizer. All those things have a way of NOT staying where you put them and they eventually end up in our water supply via lakes and rivers. Did you know that fertilizer can kill off the entire fish population in a pond? The fertilizer runs into the pond, causing an algae bloom, which sucks up all the oxygen and sunlight and the fish die by suffocation.
Our yard has been host to these mammals,snakes, amphibians and birds:
Eastern brown snakes
Black rat snakes
Cope's gray tree frogs
And about 40 species of bird....all in just under an acre of land! I am rather proud of that.
Where did you grow up? Did you always want to be a raptorologist educator person?
I grew up in Bright, Indiana. I wanted to be a marine biologist, a vet, a rock star....I never thought I would be doing this for a living. But it's not like the money is all that good. It helps, though.
Have you ever been bitten or injured by a bird? (either on the job or not)
I have been bitten, scratched, pooped and vomited on. The pooping and vomiting was just the birds being themselves (Earl, being a TV, will vomit on you if she doesn't feel like coming withyou and the screech owls use their poop as a defense...it stinks, big time). The biting and scratching were both my fault. Two-Socks, a RT we had, scratched me on my arm, early on, because I wasn't holding him properly. Our male kestrel bit me on my fingers while I was talking to someone in the crowd, and he was perched next to me, and I didn't realize I was standing so close. The program birds don't hurt us out of spite, because they have been treated gently and used for many programs, so they know how to react. It's the REHAB birds you have to watch. We handle them more rough than the ed. birds. And they get pissed.