Georgia the Red-Shouldered Hawk
This summer at the Wildlife Sanctuary I was presented with a number of tasks and challenges that helped me grow professionally. One of the challenges presented to me was training a young Red-Shouldered Hawk we named Georgia. Georgia was transferred to our facility in May with a wing injury that makes her unable to fly long distances. This is problematic for any bird making them unable to quickly get away from predators, catch prey and prevents them from migrating. Being a young bird between 1 -2 years old, Georgia was a perfect candidate to be an Animal Ambassador. Animal Ambassadors are animals that come to the sanctuary at a relatively young age and go through various training and handling procedures with the animal keepers. They are then able to go out to programs to educate the public about the mission of the Wildlife Sanctuary, the types of animals we can help, and to raise awareness and understanding of their species. But before Georgia was able to start educating the public she had to go through a lot of training.
The first step to training Georgia to be an Animal Ambassador was getting her use to stepping up on to a gloved hand. Then we worked on being able to thread jesses, which connect to a leash that the animal keeper holds onto, through the leather cuffs around her ankles. This allows us to take Georgia outside without risking her getting scared and flying away. This may sound like a simple task but it can be quite challenging. Animals like Georgia naturally view humans as predators and are scared to be near us, especially standing on our forearms and letting our hands near their ankles. While training Georgia we decided to try clicker training. Clicker training is a way of enforcing a positive behavior. An example of this could be as simple as having her step up onto my glove. If she completed this task, I would make a clicking noise showing her she did well. As soon as we added this to Georgia’s training routine we noticed that she started to relax and excel. Georgia started making huge strides in her training by going outside, being handled by new people, and going to programs to help educate people.
Training an animal like this requires a lot of trust between the animal and their keepers. Building trust with the animal allows them to understand that the keeper wouldn’t put them into dangerous situations and that we are always looking out for their safety. Training Georgia was the most challenging thing I did this summer but it has also been the most rewarding. I helped Georgia face a lot of her fears of being handled by people but she also helped me face a lot of my own fears and to grow more confident when handling animals. Although she is not yet fully trained and we may have the occasional set back, I am confident that she will soon be fully trained and will be able to educate the public on Red-Shouldered Hawks and raise awareness for her species.
by Carly Stumpner