1. “Jaz hates me.”
This is a thought that almost all externs have during their first few weeks of their rehab externship. Jaz is an American Crow, one of the education birds housed at WCV. She is very particular about whom she likes and it is hard to get on her good side! Usually externs are told to give her treats and talk nicely to her, but she can be very deceiving! Sometimes you think you are finally on her good side because she lets you pet her … and then, bam! She quickly pulls her head around and slyly nibbles at your finger.
2. “Walking to A-pens is a workout!”
One thing that is great about working at the Wildlife Center is that you are always working outdoors and in the fresh air. It is also always a workout, which is a plus. The Center has so many different enclosures that some might feel miles away when you forget that extra pair of gloves, especially when you're at the A-pens. However, walking up the hills and stairs to get to A-pens is a great morning cardio workout. I fully encourage all students to take advantage of this. Your legs will thank you later.
3. “Remember, you are bigger than the bird.”
When working with raptors, you must remind yourself of this all of the time. As someone who was originally a little nervous around some of the larger patients the Center admits, I have found comfort in realizing I am bigger than the birds! When catching them, you need confidence and determination. Lesson: always remember you are in charge and are bigger than them!
4. “Where is Max?”
Max is one of the education cornsnakes housed at the Center. He is one of the smaller education snakes, which makes him hard to find in his enclosure. I worked for many weeks before ever seeing Max. Not only does he hide under the reptile bark in his enclosure, he likes to hide underneath the newspaper lining in his enclosure as well. This makes it nearly impossible to see him unless you open his cage and unbury him. I promise he is in there!
5. “That was a close call, still didn’t get me though.”
This is the thought that pops into my head every time I am in a bird enclosure and almost get pooped on. The Eastern Screech-owl (EASO) enclosures are the most risky to enter! They are so fast and always seem to know when they are right above your head! My first week at the Center, I was pooped on by an EASO and it thankfully got my arm instead of my head. Now every time I enter an enclosure, it seems to be a game of dodge-poop. My ninja skills have improved greatly. Although the score is still Me: 0 and EASO: 1
6. “200 grams! Oh happy day!”
During baby squirrel season, the ICU at the Center is always packed with hungry mouths to feed. Some babies come in with their eyes still closed, which makes for a very long rehabilitation process leading up to release. When squirrels are syringe-fed daily, their weights are monitored twice a week. As they grow larger, they get fed fewer times per day until they reach the monumental 200 grams. This is an exciting moment for any rehab extern during the busy season! Reaching the 200 gram milestone means a squirrel is ready to start acclimating outside and will no longer be hand-fed or staying in the ICU. When there are 30+ babies in the ICU at a time, it is always rewarding to see one move on to the acclimating stage.
7. “Can Buttercup be my dog?”
Buttercup is an education Black Vulture at the Wildlife Center. Yes, he may be a vulture ... but he acts like man’s best friend. The first time you enter his enclosure, he will act shy and bashful but as soon as you turn your back he will chase you out, wanting to play. The first time he did this I was completely caught off guard and thought he was trying to attack me! I soon realized that he is just a friendly soul wanting to play. He sometimes waits for you by his gate when he hears you coming; he will nibble at your shoes, run after enrichment items, and play with sticks. Since we are not able to have dogs at the extern house, Buttercup fills the void we all have while missing our pets from home. When you have time, give him some extra attention and you will be reminded of how unique your job is.
8. “You want me to skin it …”
These were six words I’d hope I would never have to say during my time here at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Even though I knew I'd eventually have to skin a feeder rat, I somehow still hoped the odds would be in my favor and I would be off the hook. However, it was not nearly as bad as I thought. Once you become desensitized to the feeder rats smell and appearance, the skinning process becomes way more fun! Making jokes and laughing about it is extremely entertaining and if you’re anything like me, you will most definitely get a hilarious video of the entire process and finished product. It is a great conversation piece for your family members who want to know ALL aspects of your job!
9 . “Did I literally just get wing slapped?”
When working around birds, getting wing slapped seems to be a part of the weekly routine. Whether it be accidentally during mid-flight when you are exercising a bird or on purpose when you are trying to clean a bird’s crate and they wing slap your hand, you can’t help but laugh. It is particularly funny when pigeons do it because they have such strong intent when executing their wing slaps. It is almost as if they think they can actually hurt you, even though you know they can’t. It starts to become a dance between your hand and the pigeon that never gets old.
10. “Can I watch?”
Out of all thoughts you may have at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, this is probably the most important. As an extern, you get from the experience what you put in. It is so important to ask questions and always be willing to learn new things. If you are interested in something or need clarification on a task, speak up! There are so many different opportunities to learn at the Center and it is worth it to ask if you may watch or assist with something you are interested in.
WCV Class of 2016