Spotlight on Patience Falatek: Birds of a Feather - Fall 2006 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Fall 2006

Spotlight on Patience Falatek

Birds of a Feather

As a little girl growing up near Prince Gallitzin State Park, Patience Falatek would wander around looking for reptiles, salamanders, and other wildlife. But nothing fascinated her more than the wide variety of birds that existed in the park. Now an Environmental Studies and Integrative Arts double-major, Falatek was able turn her love of birds into a dream internship experience at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh during summer 2006.

An avid bird-watcher since middle school, Falatek's internship at the National Aviary was a perfect fit. "Birds are beautiful and have lots of personality," states Falatek.

"At the Aviary, I got to take care of a wide variety of birds, including the birds in the hospital and in quarantine." Her duties included feeding, cleaning, and providing enrichment. Falatek also assisted the Aviary's instructors with outreach programming, taking various birds to schools and nursing homes.

"A lot of the birds I worked with were parrots; they're very smart and if they don't have something to amuse them, they will freak out and pluck out their feathers. They also can get aggressive, pace, or engage in strange repetitive behaviors," notes Falatek. Entertaining the birds included a bit of creativity. "We made toys out of cereal boxes, because parrots like to destroy things. We'd gather the shredded paper in the offices, stuff it into the cereal boxes with some nuts, and let the parrots go at it."

And, according to Falatek, the birds have rhythm. "Another intern and I were playing with the African grey parrots in the breeding center and discovered that they would dance if we sang to them. It was really funny to watch."

Conservation was a constant theme. "I learned so much about their conservation programs. For example, the Bali mynahs that were in one of the rooms where I worked were being bred to reintroduce them into Indonesia. They are a popular cage bird there; it's a status symbol to have one," notes Falatek. She explains that its desirability as a cage bird currently is hurting its chances of reestablishing a wild population. "They are so popular and monetarily valuable that captive bred birds released into Bali run a high chance of being captured by poachers and sold into the pet trade. Rare birds like the Bali mynah are popular with the wealthy. People who own these rare birds may be difficult to track down or reluctant to allow their birds to become part of a breeding program, in part because some of these owners like being part of this exclusive group of rare bird owners."

Her internship at the National Aviary only served to solidify Falatek's desire to work with birds in some capacity, be it actually working in an aviary or zoo or utilizing her Integrative Arts degree. "Integrative Arts and Environmental Studies really fit together for me; I could be a naturalist and write a book, or be a naturalist photographer. I love to write and take photographs, and I love animals, so it just really worked for me."