Wednesday, June 7, 2017

First Three Weeks at the Minnesota Zoo's World of Birds Show

Greetings from the Minnesota Zoo's 
World of Birds Show!!
Summer 2017

Name: Jillian Jorgenson
Class Year: Junior
Hometown: Stillwater, MN
Internship: World of Birds Show Intern
Location: The Minnesota Zoo (Apple Valley, Minnesota)

This is the first of a couple posts I will be making over the course of this internship at the Minnesota Zoo. I plan to post every few weeks.

My first few weeks at the Birds Show have gone by in a blur of activity and I have experienced a week of training, a week of dress rehearsals, and almost a week and a half of daily performances. I have been maintaining a written journal each day so I'll try to pick out some of the key parts of my experience so far!

At the Birds Show, we maintain a collection of somewhere between 30-40 different birds including the following:
Ivory - Photo from National Geographic

* King Vulture (Arthur)
* Lanner Falcon (Lola)
* Red Legged Seriema (Flash)
* Harris Hawk (Bowie, Senora, Prudence)
* Red Tailed Hawk (Baron, Ivory - Ivory is a Leucistic Red Tailed Hawk and his picture can be found in  National Geographic's book called Photo Ark)
* Eurasian Eagle Owl (Orville, Gladys)
* African Grey Parrot (Koko, Alex)
* Rose Breasted Cockatoo (Pink Floyd)
* Hyacinth Macaw (Gandalf, Violet, Saphira)
* Bald Eagle (Rousey)
* Snowy Owl (Blizzard of Oz)
* Spectacled Owl (Geezer)
* East African Crowned Crane (Rusty)
* Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo (Coconut - the fan favorite and star of the shows)
* Green Cheeked Amazon Parrot (Sprout)
* Military Macaw (Charlie)
* Blue Throated Macaw (Piper)
* Golden Conure (a flock of five or six individuals named for their colored ID band)
* Two flocks of pigeons

On a typical day, I either start the day cleaning our facility's "Backpad" (outdoor bird housing, Arthur's house, and the Pigeons' houses), doing "Big Birds" (cleaning Rusty's stall, setting up the show's technology backstage, and using a leaf blower to clear the stage), or in "Matland" (power washing bird mats). Within the next week, I am scheduled to start preparing raptor diets in the mornings as well. (Mornings are mostly cleaning and then afternoons are more training)

An interesting note: During my first week with the Birds Show, the Minnesota Zoo was renewing their accreditation with the AZA. Unfortunately, the team stopped by the Birds Show facility on one of my days off.

Gladys - Female Eurasian Eagle Owl
Rusty - Male East African Crowned Crane


When I started my internship, I experienced a full week of pre-season training as well as a full week of dress rehearsals. Even though we are currently doing three shows a day, we still spend time between shows and after the last show to work with some of the birds that aren't being used in shows at the moment. At the Birds Show, we only use Positive Reinforcement and the birds never do anything they don't want to do. They let us know how the day is going to go, not the other way around.

During our daily training sessions, I have been helping to "bait" the birds that fly over the audience ("baiting" is putting food on the birds' perches as a reward for flying to their perch). So far I've been baiting Bowie and Orville during shows and I've started to help with Ivory. 

Side Note: For a good part of our rehearsals, we weren't able to train Ivory because there was a robin nest right next to the spot he flies from during shows and they wouldn't leave him alone. One morning, about a week ago, we came in and found that something had overturned the nest and eaten the robin chicks. It was sad because they were almost ready to fledge out but now we can work with Ivory on his routine.

Flash - Red Legged Seriema
At the World of Birds Show, our birds only exhibit natural behaviors - anything from fast flying/diving demonstrations by Lola, sound copying by Alex, or (my personal favorite) hunting demonstrations by Flash. Red Legged Seriemas hunt and kill their prey by picking them up and slamming them on the ground. During shows, Flash is given a toy snake and lizzard to slam on the stage; Flash's routine is quite popular and he's getting quite the fan base!

Another interesting part of our training involved Lola the lanner falcon. Her species can reach speeds up to 90 mph (not quite as fast as the peregrine falcon) and Lola has been clocked this summer at an impressive 92 mph! How do we know this? Lola actually has a little GPS tracker attached to a tail feather that is connected to an iPad we keep backstage. The tracker lets us see how far, fast, and high Lola flies and it has come in handy on days where she gets a little carried away and flies away from the show or even off zoo grounds.


Starting last week, myself and the other two Birds Show interns have weekly workshops about various Zoo related topics with our intern supervisor. So far, we've discussed basic bird knowledge/anatomy and feather anatomy and Career Development. What I've come to realize so far is that I'm interested in basically everything and I have no idea where I want to end up someday. I guess this is why it is so important to try everything to see what I like best. I'm at the Birds Show this summer but I'll have the opportunity to shadow another department for a day at some point this summer.


Unless stated otherwise, all photographs I post are taken by me either on my phone or camera. All photographs I take and wish to post have been approved by my intern supervisor and department curator. Coming Soon: better quality bird pictures from an actual show (the pictures above were taken on my phone and thus aren't the best quality).

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