My regular visitors will recall that, last month, I took a real, live vacation to Salt Lake City to meet a fabulous condor named Andy who lives in a posh aviary there. But I was also keenly interested in meeting Andy's friend, Helen.
This is Helen with the aviary's black vulture, Chewie.
Helen is the reason Andy has become an international celebribirdy. Before she arrived in his life, he lived in a cave-like enclosure by himself (his sister died of cancer). Helen coaxed Andy out, and now he takes a daily stroll with her, in order to meet eccentric buzzard-lovers such as myself.
Helen has trained other birds in the aviary as well -- you should see Chewie with her. A vulture acting like a puppy! She and her crew also have shows featuring spoonbills, toucans, hawks, a turkey vulture, and an owl.
The most impressive of Helen's accomplishments is that the birds in her care all seem so happy. Can birds be happy? If you have to ask, you've never had a meaningful relationship with a bird.
Someone at the aviary told me that Helen takes birds home with her when she is trying to bond with them. I'm sure she didn't do that with Andy, but he positively dotes on her. She coaxed him out for his birthday even though he had to go past some bright, flapping fabric and lots and lots of people. She calmly said, "You've got this, Andy." And he did.
Lots of people ask Helen how she got her job, and she demurs. She's not a university-trained bird person. Like so many folks who are really, really good at what they do, she's just been able to put her dreams into reality. She is very motivated.
As would I be, if every day began with a jovial stroll, just me and my Andean condor.
Helen's job isn't stress-free. Birds are touchy, and they can bite, so she needs to be vigilant without seeming so. She was pretty tense on Andy's birthday, because the aviary was so crowded. But all in all, she's clearly loving her work. I don't think I could prevail upon her to switch careers with me.
Imagine getting up every day to go see a veritable aviary full of cheery birds, who you will walk with, talk about, and perform with for people of all ages! No profession is a total bowl of cherries, but I'll bet working with Andy is at least a bowl of craisins.
All hail Helen, the lovely bird-whisperer of Salt Lake City! Helen is living my dream.