By Rebecca Radcliffe
Heather Scott, Head of Bird Team at Sheffield’s Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife and Falconry Centre works with birds as part of her job.
This means she works with all the centre’s birds of prey and parrots.
“My job role includes weighing the birds, general husbandry like nail clipping, beak coping, food preparation, cleaning of indoor quarters and outdoor encloses, as well as training the birds used in demonstrations.”
Heather is responsible for training the birds and preparing them for the shows that visitors can watch.
“This includes training a variety of birds of prey and parrots, some which are trained within an aviary environment where the actual show takes place, and many are trained for the free-flying outside in the shows.”
There is a number of different methods to train different types of birds. With parrots the trainers use positive reinforcement in the form of food.
“Associating words like ‘good’ with food so that they understand when they have done something correctly is a good way to train parrots. It’s also a very similar way to train birds of prey as they are mostly food motivated.”
After training a bird, it is certainly an accomplishment seeing them go out and perform.
“I absolutely love my job but the best part for me is seeing a big crowd enjoying the shows and making a breakthrough in training one of the birds to do something, but these two aspect gives me the best job satisfaction.”
Since childhood she has had a passion for wildlife.
“I’m very lucky I was offered a trial day after pestering the Head Keeper like crazy and showed enough initiative to land the job.”
Having worked at the centre for three years now, and starting out with no previous experience with birds, Heather was understandably nervous about the job she had landed herself.
“When I started I had no experience with birds so I was trained by existing staff members, and animal training consultants from another park.”
“Much of it is trial and error but I felt quickly that I had a natural passion for working with birds and an understanding of how to train them. It’s quite nice to reminisce about how I got where I am now.”
Since starting work at the centre Heather has become close to one bird in particular.
“Alfie, a green winged Mascow, arrived shortly after I started here, so we learned together in a way and seemed to bond immediately.”
“The birds often favour certain handlers or trainers, sometimes it’s hard to specify the reason. It could be appearance, tone of voice, little things like whether you talk to them or sing around them as I occasionally do, but Alfie and I definitely had a close bond from the start.”
If you would like to look at more ways for caring and training for birds, then take a look at Heather’s weekly blog. http://www.birdtricks.com/blog/author/heather/