A bird in the hand

By Amy Middleton 19 January 2010
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We quizzed Erin, a bird trainer, about rehabilitating an injured peregrine falcon.

Meet Erin Stone. It’s possible that she stole your dream job: hanging out with birds at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, could be the most enviable career this side of a meat-pie taste-tester.

We talked to Erin about her rehabilitation work with an injured peregrine falcon.

What’s a typical day’s work when you’re rehabilitating a wild bird?

At the beginning the falcon was quite nervous, so the first step I took was to build a relationship with him. Gaining trust is the most important step in training any animal. After the trust has been built we start the lure training. Lure flying is a technique which has been used for centuries, it’s like a game of cat and mouse: the keeper swings a leather lure around which has food attached and, the falcon has to chase it.

How does participating in the zoo’s bird show help a bird’s rehabilitation?

Lure flying for a falcon is just like physio for a human. Having not flown for a couple of months due to a fractured wing, the falcon lost a lot of muscle and found it difficult to fly. This training helps strengthen his muscles, and allows us to see if there’s any permanent damage that could be detrimental if he was released. Peregrine falcons are specialist hunters, flying up to speeds of 380 km/h. So having a slight injury could possibly make it unable to capture its prey.

Who is the best flying friend that you’ve made during your career?

The best bird I trained has to be Ripley, the barking owl. I was lucky enough to hand-raise her from two weeks of age; she came home with me as a chick and we did everything together from going to the park to watching TV. She is very cheeky and always gets into mischief – she has been known to steal keepers’ hats right off the top of their heads. Ripley is practicing her routine for the Free Flight Bird Show and will make her debut this February.

How can aspiring animal keepers begin a career?

Taronga Training Institute offers courses that can get you on the right track – and give you the unique experience of becoming an intern keeper at Taronga Zoo while you study! (click here for nationwide information)

The perfect day at Taronga Zoo would involve…

First, see bath time with the elephants and baby Luk Chai. Then catch the bird show and the seal show. Have an animal encounter with koalas, giraffes, owls and reptiles. Stop for lunch in one of the parks that overlook the harbour. Then let the kids run around at our kids’ zoo, Backyard to Bush, in the afternoon.

For more info on Taronga Zoo and the bird show, visit the website.