Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Freedom the Bald Eagle's Training Journal - Entry #1

Freedom waits for Dan's cues to begin working together.

My name is Dan Hnilicka, and I am Freedom the bald eagle’s lead trainer.  As most of you know, Freedom is not able to be returned to the wild because of permanent injuries to his talons.  Eagles need feet, toes and talons fully functional for survival in the wild. As with all the education ambassadors, TRC monitors their health closely.

The first thing I did before Freedom joined the Education Department was develop a training plan. This way I know what step is next, and where I can easily make adjustments if he jumps ahead in his understanding or needs a little extra help here or there in his training.  Every bird is different so you have to be ready to adjust. It is all a study of one. As his lead trainer, I also keep a detailed account of his training. That way I can mark his progress along his training plan.
This is the scale that Dan and Freedom worked with.
We would like to share some of Freedom’s training journal entries with you and how we are preparing him for his new career as a winged ambassador.
Freedom is curious and looking to engage with his trainer, and his
training.  Dan is at the left, and you can see his "food pouch"
where the rat treats will be placed on the scale. 

TRC sees approximately 150,000 people each year.  Freedom, when he is fully integrated into the Education program, will see many of those people. We need to take the time now for him to be very successful later as an ambassador for his species. We always want to set the birds up for success. 
Small, successful steps that build Freedom’s confidence and trust in his trainer/handler are how we begin preparing Freedom for the different settings and people this would involve.  (See this past blog on an education winged ambassador “job description”.)

Training helps our birds be comfortable with the different situations and environments in which they teach, and to become comfortable with the staff and volunteers.  It also provides a framework for how to introduce new objects (like enrichment toys) and behaviors that we encourage for a safe and less stressful experience.  Once the birds know what to expect from a trainer and a situation, they have choices of how they want to react. 
We want Freedom to be engaged in his training, and feel empowered to make decisions how he interacts.  This first entry we are sharing in his training journal has to do with “target training” to a scale.  Monitoring our education birds’ weights is a critical piece in their care.  I introduced the scale to Freedom by putting small pieces of rat as a lure on it. A lure is always followed by a reward. In this case a lure helps Freedom have a more clear idea of what I am asking him to do.  He cautiously took food off the scale at first, but is now confidently walking right up to it for his reward.  This is a great behavior to learn to build his confidence and trust as he is in total control of his environment.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wizarding World of Wildlife Camp at TRC

This week, TRC welcomed summer campers for our popular Wizarding World of Wildlife camp. 

The "herbology" topic included a visit to the CBS Conservatory on the UMN/St Paul campus.  Campers explored how carnivorous plants interacted with their "prey" by enticing it to come to them.  The campers then got to watch TRC staff Ian Dorney feed Lois the education great horned owl, and compare and contrast how owls procured their prey with a much different approach. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Meet TRC's Summer Scholar Treana Mayer

Meet Treana Mayer, TRC's
Summer Scholar

We are excited to introduce you to our Summer Scholar, Treana Mayer. The Summer Scholars are veterinary students who have earned the opportunity to work in research with faculty during their summer break. They received grant funding through a competitive process based on proposals they wrote. During the summer, they will work closely with faculty to learn more about the research process as well as take a lead role in one specific project.

“I’m a rising second year doctor of veterinary medicine student right here at the University of Minnesota, with a strong interest in the fields of free roaming wildlife, conservation medicine, and One Health. My background includes an undergraduate degree in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, and experience working with many types of avian species, including endangered, domestic, and captive-wild birds.

In the future I’m considering an advanced research degree after my DVM, to investigate unknowns regarding wildlife health, and emergent infectious diseases. I am passionate about anthropomorphic climate change, and its impacts on the health of our ecosystems, animal and human communities. In choosing to pursue veterinary medicine, I felt compelled to use this toolset to mitigate human caused impacts to our neighboring species, and to explore adaptive strategies to improve the health of animals and people alike.

This is why I’m most excited to be here at The Raptor Center as a Summer Scholar, to support their mission in the clinic, while working on a research project for reducing subjectivity in body condition scoring. My hope is to contribute towards the greater standardization of wild raptor health data collection, to allow for greater collaboration across organizations, improving our understanding of these amazing birds in the future.”