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Nicole

“I love the impact I make on people as I educate them.”

Position: Bird Department

Responsibilities: Handles various aspects of avian care, including feeding the birds, cleaning up after them, providing medical attention and training.

Favorite part of the job:

Her favorite part of her job is training the birds to do their job. Training the birds to use different cues such as talking, flying, and painting as well as cues needed for us to help check on their health and wellbeing or take medications if needed. Additionally, she focuses on training the birds to get used to new environments or different environments, like silent areas with no one around, to areas that have loud crowds moving by quickly, like in Avian Avenue. Nicole says, “It is so much fun working with the birds for whatever they are asked to do and for the birds to be comfortable with their job”.

Nicole graduated with a degree in Wildlife Biology at the University of Wyoming. Her sophomore year of college she began a summer internship working with birds for the public at the Buffalo Bill Center of The West in Cody, Wyoming. The moment she held her first bird on her glove, she was immediately hooked. A former coworker in Wyoming referred Reptile Gardens to Nicole, and she has been here since.

Most memorable part of the job:

Nicole began her Reptile Gardens career during the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately the pandemic threw many bird’s normal routines off, especially for a female eagle owl that Nicole began working with. Not only was the owl’s routine off, but she was in her natural broody mode and very territorial, challenging Nicole daily. Nicole realized she needed to work for the owl’s respect, so she would spend hours with the owl each day, learning how the owl liked to be worked with and together they began figuring each other out. Finally after 6 months, the owl began working with Nicole like she did everyone else, and their friendship bloomed. Making this owl her favorite animal to work with at Reptile Gardens.

Things to know about Nicole:

  1. She cannot whistle, so you will never catch her training the birds how to whistle.
  2. After college she was able to see the country and meet so many amazing people by moving to 5 states in 5 years for various internships before settling into the Black Hills at Reptile Gardens.
  3. She worked at Zoo Montana where she loved getting to train a Lynx.
  4. Falconry is her favorite sport to educate her audiences about. While in Vermont she gave a program around Falconry, the sport of hunting with birds. A young boy and his mother approached her after to dive deeper into the sport. The following year that same boy and mother came back, letting Nicole know the boy had gone home that day, did intense research on Falconry and was in the process of getting his falconry license as soon as he hit the proper age. Nicole realized how much she loved her job and the impact she made on people after this moment.
  5. Her favorite animal is a Harris Hawk, specifically one she worked with in Vermont named Hidalgo. When she left she tattooed a photo of Hidalgo on her forearm as a way to forever remember him.

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