There’s a new program at the Audubon Society of Portland that aims to get the new generation of the 21st century ready to be conservation leaders and educators. The TALON (Teach, Advocate, Lead, Observe, and Nurture) program is also meant to bring more teens and adults together from different ethnic groups, and to diversify and get the new generation involved with what is going on in the world. Portland Audubon’s Gladys Ruiz leads TALON, which teaches participants skills for a future conservation-related career. I was one of 12 TALON members that joined the program in 2013, its first year. We were placed into four different areas at Audubon: education, conservation, sanctuaries, and the Wildlife Care Center. I was placed into an internship at the Wildlife Care Center – Gladys thought I would be a great fit since I already had experience in the other areas.
The Wildlife Care Center changed the way I see birds. Before I started my internship, I honestly put all birds in one category: “birds.” When I started I was hesitant to hold the birds: Was I doing it right? Was I hurting them in any way? So many questions came to mind. Luckily, Lacy Campbell, the Wildlife Care Center operations manager, had all of the answers. Birds come in different shapes and sizes. Some are more energetic and hop all over the place, while some birds are calm but have a fear of humans. I would never have thought there would be such an enormous variety of birds out there in the blue sky.
I’ve worked with a range of birds now, from Anna’s Hummingbirds to Red-tailed Hawks. The raptors are my favorite birds to work with. The first time I handled them I was a bit anxious about getting them out of their enclosures. Deb Sheaffer, the care center’s veterinarian, was there to talk me through it. She trained me to hold the legs because they have dangerous talons that can hurt you if they aren’t under control. She also taught me to keep an eye on the beak because raptors will use it as a second defense. The first raptor I held was a Great Horned Owl — it had my blood rushing! It was an experience I will never be able to forget. To this day, I get that feeling every time I hold a raptor.
I learned a lot during my 2013 apprenticeship, but I wanted to expand my knowledge of bird anatomy this year. Since I started studying bird anatomy, I now know a lot more about what’s happening inside a bird. The strangest but most fascinating thing I’ve learned about female birds is the structure of their reproductive system. As with every female animal, they begin their life with two ovaries and oviducts. In most species of birds the left ovary and oviduct grow much faster than the right, and the right side reverts. Some people think this is an adaptation to reduce the bird’s weight to aid it in flight. When the bird hatches, the left ovary contains all of the egg cells it will ever be able to lay. Female birds may be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate birds lay only a set number of eggs, while indeterminate layers, such as chickens, will quickly replace any eggs that are lost. It takes 25 hours for a bird to lay an egg.
Since I started working in the care center, I have learned to identify many bird species. I point them out to my friends and family. Whenever they see or hear a bird they say, “Hey Bird Man, what kind of bird is that?” When you learn about a specific type of bird you will notice them everywhere. I always notice crows in my neighborhood, and even if I can’t see them I can hear them because I know their alarm and begging calls. Since crows are common in the area and they make a lot of noise, some people think they are obnoxious. I feel like they are such amazing birds because they are very intelligent. When fledgling crows are being fed they make this noise that sounds like they are saying “Yumm. Yumm, yumm.” So next time you hear a crow begging, stop and listen.
I can honestly say that being a part of the Wildlife Care Center team has been a really amazing experience. I will be back to volunteer at the care center after my internship, because birds are interesting creatures and I would love to expand my knowledge and share it with those who do not know about birds.