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Meet an Aviculturist

Sara Mandel's avatar

Animal Updates | Birds | Volunteering

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sara

Hi! I’m Sara, an aviculturist at the Aquarium of the Pacific. What is an aviculturist? Well, it’s a very lucky person that gets to care for the bird collection at the Aquarium of the Pacific. In this blog, you will get a glimpse into what being an aviculturist is all about. By the end of my blog, you may just become a bigger bird nerd than me!

Birds are amazing creatures, they have the ability to live in extreme environments, fly for days without stopping, and perform gorgeous courtship rituals. However, some birds are not many people’s cup of tea. I love every bird, from the urban rock dove (aka pigeon) to the elegant flamingo. But, since I started at the Aquarium of the Pacific, I fell in love with even more! Growing up, I knew that I wanted to have something to do with birds, and when I started volunteering at the Aquarium, I knew that I needed to be a part of Lorikeet Forest. I started off at the Aquarium of the Pacific as an education volunteer in 2005, where I got to interpret many of the exhibits and animals to various guests. When I first arrived at Lorikeet Forest I knew that I belonged with those unique and squawky lorikeets. I ended up scoring a sweet position as an educator, where I got to give behind the scene tours, and let my passion for the ocean and love for animals show as I talked to many guests giving presentations, and interpreting the exhibits.

Yet, I could not stay away from those lorikeets! I just had to help to take care of them, so I applied to be a Lorikeet volunteer, and my life was never the same. I remember on my first day, when I walked into Lorikeet Forest at 7:30 a.m., the flock was already awake and ready to eat. I quickly got used to working with little “helpers” squawking and hanging from my hair, shirt, hands, legs, you name it. It was the hardest I had ever worked in my life, and I loved it! This is where I became officially addicted to birds.

The lorikeets were not enough, I needed to learn more about my feathered friends, so I became an alcid and shorebirds volunteer. Alcids are a really cool group of birds, that are also known as diving birds. This includes Horned Puffins, Tufted Puffins, Crested Auklets, and Pigeon Guillemonts. They live in our Northern Pacific Gallery, and are a riot to watch, especially during feeding time. The Puffins can grab so many fish in their beaks before chowing them down! The Shorebird Sanctuary houses our shorebird collection, that includes many different species of shorebirds, and a few really cool ducks. The food preparation for those birds can take up to an hour, and the cleaning will take hours. Is it weird that I enjoy all of it? About 90% of this job is cleaning, getting dirty, and more cleaning. Other parts include observing the birds, feeding them, and various interactions with our feathered friends.

I volunteered in the Husbandry department for three and a half years until my dream came true, I was offered a part-time job as an aviculturist. At the time I was still working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology, and was thrilled to be able to get paid for all of my hard work and dedication. I finally had my dream job, and was ready to be a sponge and absorb all of the information and training that I could. I worked mostly with the Rainbow Lorikeets, this meant that I would get the chance to learn how to hand raise some chicks, learn over 100 lorikeet names! (still working on that…), and help maintain and care for over 100 Rainbow Lorikeets!

Mornings always start with rounds, which means we walk through all of the animal habitats and make sure that everyone is okay and ready to start the day. Then, we break off into various cleaning tasks, so our animals can have nice fresh and clean exhibits and homes. Once we have our morning cleaning done, it’s breakfast time! Lorikeets are nectivorous parrots that only eat pollen and some fruit, and boy do they know how to make a mess! We like to give them a type of nectar and fruit smoothie. While working with the lorikeets I gained many husbandry (fancy word for animal healthcare) skills that will remain valuable throughout my career.

I worked part-time for a few years, and earned my degree in psychology, and this is where my life got even better: I applied for a full time job working with our new Magellanic Penguins, and I was lucky enough to get that job! I was walking on cloud nine all day, and couldn’t believe that I finally had a full time job in my dream field! Taking on a brand new exhibit, The June Keyes Penguin Habitat, was a challenge that I was ready for! At the time, our exhibit housed 13 Magellanic Penguins, and my lucky job was to work with them! I did a lot of research on their natural history, and anatomy so I had a basic understanding of my new friends. Oh, and I already knew how to clean, scrub (and repeat), so I was ready to go.

These penguins are the pickiest little bowling balls I had ever come across! Whatever, one of our females, only wants capelin belly to the right, and can find the nutritious vitamin in one bite. Robbie, one of our Brazillian rescue birds goes back and forth in his preferences of herring or capelin, but he needs it presented in a tossing fashion. Newsom, our little ham, prefers herring, but must nuzzle the fish or just try to “bucket dive”. Those are just some examples of how our Penguins prefer to be served.

Now we have 15 Magellanic Penguins because Floyd and Roxy became first-time parents to Heidi and Anderson! Heidi is a female, who turns five months old today, and Anderson is a male who will turn five months old on November 25th. Stay tuned for more tales from the June Keyes Penguin Habitat!

Being an aviculturist at the Aquarium of the Pacific is the right career path for me, being the self-proclaimed bird nerd that I am. There is a lot of hard work, patience and dedication that goes into being a member of the husbandry team, but it is all worth it to be able to work with some of the most amazing animals. In my blogs, I hope to educate, entertain, help conserve, and share the passion I have for those feathered friends that I love so much.

Meet an Aviculturist
A bundle of precious lorikeet chicks. They are around a month old here.  | Sara Mandel
Meet an Aviculturist
This is Henry, he is our 20 year old Magellanic Penguin.  | Sara Mandel
Meet an Aviculturist
My buddy Newsom and I "braying" together.  | Terri Oba

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