There’s a looser, more collegial feel between the Bird People and the newer Volunteers (understand that both groups are 100% unpaid) on the day the park is closed. Birds of prey still need housekeeping and room service, public be damned.
Bird People are longtime Vols. Decades. They handle and feed; cut, measure, weigh and record all food; do a zillion outreach programs; help with maintenance and vet visits; coordinate with rescue networks; the list goes on.
Newbies clean. We scoop aviaries (gigantic litter boxes), rake sand, and scrub the perches and baths for a bald eagle; two vultures and a caracara; three hawks; eight owls; two falcons. It’s often awful in the summer. The owls and falcons are the smelliest. The vultures are odorless and play with their toys. The caracara oozes personality.
But no bird tops Carson. A female kestrel (falcon), she’s physically perfect. Raised by humans, she can’t survive in the wild. An imprint. Habituated. Our undisputed princess.
Because I’d handled her, last week a Bird Person asked if I wanted to try feeding her. They’re training her to “eat on the glove” but she’s been “uncooperative.” (Well, she is a princess; did they chuckle to pair a princess Vol with the princess bird?)
She took forever to step up. Totally uncooperative with weighing, too; they all know what to do, they just sometimes throw blatant attitude. She took well over an hour to peck down about 10 grams of a mouse, cut in half, various cavities relished and others avoided. Interesting.
She needs to behave so as an experiment, they stopped her breakfast. If only meal is dinner (like everybody else), maybe she’ll remember the exceptionally good manners she exhibited until recently? Like, stepping up on the glove the first time?
Today, I offered spot to another because of an exit deadline. “You do it. We can transfer if she’s still eating.” Passing a bird to another glove is wrought with specific, important details. I haven’t done it enough to feel confident so it’s still thrilling.
I choose a leash and fix my glove. Carson’s outdoor aviary has two steel bar doors with weird handles. I try not to notice the Bird People trying not to watch. She’s in an awkward spot. I duck down and hold up my finger, cooing. She peeps back and hops up perfectly. Takes me forever to thread the stupid leash clips through her jesses (the ankle bracelets that allow a bird to be tethered to a glove) and then clip the leash onto my glove with a sore thumb. Carson starts to fuss and I agree she has every right to complain.
Weighing goes perfectly, too. We settle at the edge of a hardwood hammock to eat her mouse, starting with the lower half because it’s easy to clamp the tail between her jesses. Keeping jesses clamped between index finger and thumb is the sacred duty. If a bird is on your glove, you must do anything to protect and defend. Presenting mouse carcass most appealingly is job number two.
Carson’s morning fast is working. She squawks as we settle into the chair and dives in immediately. A Bird Person laughs. “She’s hangry.”
She eats her fill but refuses to let go of the remnants. As advised, I offer up the head, face down, a bit of a slippery hold. Especially since she’s clutching the remains with the tail in her left talon. Oh well.
Then, a random male barred owl – who was hooting from afar at Mystic, our 21 yo (sorry, dude) barred owl – decides to move in. His talons close around a branch in a nearby live oak when a furious mockingbird a fraction of the owl’s size begins dive bombing, slamming into the owl so many times we lose count after 12. No one can look away.
Even Carson stops eating to watch. After sortie number whatever, her blue brown falcon mask yellow beak gorgeousness whips around and she begins to shriek in my face. “Try the picnic table behind the building.”
Nope. But she finally releases the mouse tail in her panic. My Vol bestie finds it, which means we can get an accurate weight of how much she actually consumes. Grams presented versus grams in bird belly.
“Take her inside. If she’s eating we’ll transfer.” We go inside, inside where she lives every night, inside where she lived most days until late last year. Safe. She complains and protests but she calms.
There’s no chance this girl wants more food. Her bird brain told her she could be dinner and she’s not wrong. I put her on her night perch. Takes forever to re-clip the damn leash.
The birds we support are not pets. We can’t touch them without a specific reason. They don’t “love” us. They associate the Bird People with food and tolerate the Vols as necessary annoyances. And I love this job.