2019 Year in Review: Alex Wehrung, Outreach Coordinator

It’s time to look back on 2019! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2019 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

2019 has been a year of change for the outreach department. Some changes felt huge, like welcoming new staff members, and some changes felt exciting, like remodeling our shared office space. A few changes felt both huge and exciting all at once – particularly during the summer months when our department had to do a bit of shuffling and assign each staff member to take the lead on training and working with each of the Center’s resident education raptors.

Each raptor is an individual with specific behaviors, personality traits, background, etc., but a lot of the same basic training principles apply for all of them. When they perform a desired behavior or action, they’re rewarded with something they want – usually food. I’d almost say our training methods are like driving a car; once you get your license, there’s not a ton of difference between driving a sedan versus a minivan. When I was given the opportunity to work with Buddy the Bald Eagle, however, it felt like going from a sedan to an 18-wheeler. Sure, there’s a steering wheel and pedals, but some things are just… different.

One of the gloves used for Buddy handling (top), compared to one used for smaller raptors (bottom). 

I’m exaggerating a bit for the sake of an exciting story, of course, but it was a big change for both myself and Buddy. I’ve worked with most of our other education raptors during my time at the Center, but never anything as large and powerful as an eagle. Buddy’s had a number of trainers over the years, but never someone who’s looked or sounded like me. We’re working together on behaviors that haven’t been asked of Buddy in the past, and we’ve still got a few more milestones to hit before we’re ready to go out on programs together, but the amount of progress we’ve made so far is really inspiring to think about.

One of the best parts about this story is that it isn’t over – working with Buddy will be an ever-evolving relationship, and I can’t wait to see what 2020 will bring.

—Alex Wehrung, Outreach Coordinator 

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!