Intern’s Perspective – Peter

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If you’re like me, your alarm wakes you up at 6am. You groan, throw your arm back over your shoulder reaching blindly for the phone, sit up, and finally hit the cancel button. Another day has officially started. I grab my work cloths, throw on the deodorant, get the coffee started, and brush my teeth if I remember that day. Unlike my fellow interns I actually cook breakfast: eggs or just the whites, some form of protein usually chicken or steak, and sit for a minute sipping my coffee while keeping an eye on the clock.

I’m out the door at 7am to start the day. First stop is the feed station where Ken is already scrubbing dishes as he mutters to himself about lord knows what. I greet him as I walk into the feed station and start preparing all the food for the morning feeding: Herring, Capelin, Lake Smelt, Science Diet cat food, Clear Value mixed vegetables, and some bugs. Ken asks me if I’ve heard about this, that, or the other thing in the news to which I answer “nope” just like I have every other day for the past 3 months. He proceeds to tell me about whatever topic has peaked his interest for the day, tells me if any of the birds didn’t eat or is acting strange, and goes about with his tasks. Meanwhile, I’m finally prepared with all the food going out to the birds just for the morning: 4 dishes of mixed foodstuffs, two dishes of squid or shrimp, one dish of duck crumble and vegetables that the Muscovy Duck won’t even bother touching, and two buckets of fish for the Pelicans and Cormorants.

I arrive at the Pelican enclosure never knowing who is or isn’t going to be hungry today. I quickly feed the two special needs birds with broken beaks, and proceed to hand feed any other Pelican that is willing to catch a flying fish. Some days it’s 3, some days it’s everyone, and some days nobody’s hungry. Afterwards any leftover fish get thrown into bowls of water and left for the Pelicans to eat at their own discretion. I set down a dish of mixed food and a dish of squid for the assortment of gulls that share the enclosure, and take a look around to note any new issues with any of the birds. If there’s anything out of the ordinary I report to my boss and follow her instructions if given any.

Up next is the Shorebirds enclosure. This is so much easier. I walk in, set down a few dishes spaced apart, and dump a basket full of fish into a bowl of water. My favorite part is taking a handful of the smaller fish, throwing them, and watching as all the gulls run to wherever the fish land and scarf them down. The rest of the morning is filled with maintenance or cleaning around the sanctuary: refilling raptor ponds with water, scrubbing the boardwalks of bird poop, raking the beach, cleaning out trenches, etc. Around noon I take lunch. After that the afternoon feeding is basically the same as the morning, with the addition of feeding the Raptors at the sanctuary. Gorgeous birds all of them, even Junior the Great-Horned Owl and his constant sass. Work ends at around 4pm, then it’s time to kick off your shoes and do whatever you want, unless of course you’re “On Call”. This means that you’ll be given “the bird phone” to answer for any “bird emergencies”. A call can come in at any time of day, and after business hours it falls to the interns. Two nights out of the week without fail, that darn phone rings just at my dinner hits the stovetop. My general response is a sigh or a rolling of the eyes, while my boss snickers or chuckles to herself before throwing in a sarcastic “you think you would have learned by now”. Yea I suppose I should have learned at some point but I was always hoping “maybe tonight I’ll catch a break”. No Dice. The call comes in you rush out to get the bird IF it actually requires help.

Sometimes people see things like a bird sitting for too long and assume there’s something wrong with it. Nope, that’s just what birds do when they aren’t hungry or flying, they sit and do nothing. Apparently that concept is cause for alarm to the general public. So I explain to the person on the other end of the line that just because a bird is sitting on your back deck doesn’t mean it’s sick or in need of care. In fact, if a bird isn’t either of those two things we can’t legally do anything about it. I’d say about 50% of the calls I got while here were like that. The other half actually required my attention and taking a bird to the hospital for treatment. Finally as the sun goes down the calls stop coming in. Just like us, once it gets dark, the birds go to bed and are less likely to get into trouble. Around 9:30 or 10pm I retire to my room for a little gaming, and it’s lights out at 11pm to sleep until the next day when I get to do it all over again.

That’s only if it’s a routine day, but around here it’s rarely routine. That’s the exciting part of being an intern at Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. There’s always something new going on. Whether it’s an injured bird first thing in the morning, or my boss needing help over at the hospital, I never know for sure what I’m going to be doing that day.

One thing I do know for sure is I’ll be spending at least half an hour alone with my Aria, the gorgeous Merlin I trained for education programs. Here at FKWBC they really want you to get something useful out of your internship aside from general animal husbandry. I was so excited when I was asked if I wanted to attempt to train a raptor. I think I literally squealed. I’d always wanted to work with Raptors in general, but to have a special bird that only I would be working with was a dream come true. After a few weeks of training Aria was getting comfortable walking around on my gloved hand, and made her big debut at an art show down on Islamorada. Everyone was awestruck by her gorgeous regal appearance, and I was so proud of both myself and her for what we had accomplished together.

I suppose I’ll wrap this up before it becomes a Memoir of my time here. To end, I’ll leave you readers with these final words. Support your local shelters, sanctuaries, or rehabilitation centers. They can always use donations, both monetary or supplies, and every little bit you do for them helps in some way. Hasta La Vista baby!

Peter Purvis, FKWBC Intern, 2015

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