Describe your job: I am an aviculturist at the Tennessee Aquarium. My daily duties include feeding, cleaning and caring for gentoo and macaroni penguins, hyacinth macaws, and native southeastern birds such as hooded mergansers, eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. I also work with other parrots, owls, and even a toucan who are a part of our bird shows several times each day. I also present daily “Keeper Chats” about penguins. My job involves a lot of patience and attention to details – such as watching different birds’ behavior to ensure they are healthy and safe. I often am involved in training of new birds for shows and in routine veterinary procedures for our birds.
How long have you been in the position? I have held this position for four and a half years.
What in your background helped you get the job? I have been a volunteer and staff member of the Tennessee Aquarium since I was 14-years old, back in 1999. I have accumulated over 700 hours of volunteer time since then. I started out cleaning bird cages and helping with summer camp, and then I was able to turn that into a full time job working with birds of all kinds. I studied some biology in school, but what I use most each day are the things I have learned by working “hands-on” with the animals. I also have a theatre background, which comes in handy during bird shows.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? My favorite thing is knowing that what I do each day directly affects the animals in my care and the visitors who come to see them. I love that I can work hard and know that the birds have a clean and healthy environment to live in and they seem to be very content. I also love seeing people’s faces when they realize just how intelligent and beautiful these birds can be. Teaching visitors about animals and conservation always makes me feel as if my job is very important.
Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position: A highlight of my job definitely has to be seeing a baby bird hatch. I love watching tiny, featherless bluebird chicks beg for food, or watching a newly hatched penguin chick stumble around the nest. I think the best part is seeing that penguin chick jump in the water and swim for the first time. It is a terrifying yet proud time because for over three months that chick has not left the nest, then suddenly you introduce it to the colony and you don’t know if she will be picked on by the other birds or if her instincts will kick in and she will realize how to swim and get herself out of the pool. It was a very satisfying time for me in 2010, when after a summer of daily monitoring, our Gentoo chick, Shivers, jumped in the water and then climbed out all on her own. She made it!
Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite? I can’t pick favorites. I have penguins who favor me more than other keepers, and that makes me feel pretty special, but I don’t think I could choose just one. They all have so many different endearing qualities. The Hyacinth macaws are divas and their stubbornness is hilarious to observe. The penguins are constantly curious and playful and there is never a dull moment around them. And the songbirds and ducks patiently wait for their worms each afternoon in the same spot. They are all so different, and that is what makes it such a fun job.