Bird Day Fair: Profile of an expert

Name: Geneviève Zaloum
Age: 28
Position: Director of Educational Programs at Falcon Environmental Services

Falcon Ed free flight show at Nature Canada's Bird Day Fair May 21, 2014. Photography by Susanne Ure

Geneviève Zaloum at the Bird Day Fair. Photography by Susanne Ure.

Sunshine the snow white Barn Owl swoops majestically through the air before landing amidst the crowd. “She might be a bit nervous,” Falconer Geneviève Zaloum says, before fetching the bird from between the spectators. However, it’s hard to imagine such a majestic looking creature (and fearsome predator) could be easily intimidated. Sunshine is one of many birds of prey that were shown at Ottawa’s Bird Day Fair held May 31st in Andrew Haydon Park.

After the show, I got a chance to do a Q & A with Geneviève about her falconry career and the birds she trains and advocates for.

Dylan Copland (DC): What is your job at Falcon Environmental Services?

Geneviève Zaloum (GZ): Since I started in 2009, I’ve had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything; from taking care of the animals to training, to visiting schools and educating children. It’s a very dynamic position.

DC: What sorts of animals do you work with?

GZ: I only work with birds of prey. It’s constantly interesting though because I think each one has their own personality and style. They have their own quirks and each one does its own thing, so I’m always guessing at what they’re going to do next. You have to learn how to interact with each individual.

DC: Can you describe one of these unique animals personalities?

GZ: Figaro, the Harris Hawk, presented last Saturday, is 18 years old. Born in captivity, and having always been amongst humans, this is a bird who knows the business. No matter where we are, I can count on this bird to do the job! He is comfortable around people, and loves his perches. It is not any Harris Hawk that can accomplish that, however the years of experience and the many handlers this bird has encountered makes him an extremely valued asset to our bird team.

Great Horned Owl coming in for a landing

Photography by Susanne Ure

DC: What inspired you to get into this line of work?

GZ: Well, I knew I always wanted to work with animals. I have a B.Sc. In Zoology, but I think I have the ability to work well with not only animals, but also people because you have to be open and answer the public’s questions and to have the patience to listen to people. I like doing it all and the dynamic nature of the position is what makes it exciting.

DC: What is one of the most memorable experiences you have had while working with birds?

GZ: One of the most wonderful experiences so far in my career has been training our Great Horned Owl, Darwin. In order to have an owl that is comfortable in schools and show presentations, we made the decision to imprint. In the wild, babies imprint on their parents, and therefore associate themselves as that species. However, in our case, we wanted Darwin to associate himself as human, and therefore we raised him ourselves. I can honestly say that it was one of the coolest experiences watching this little owlet grow into an adult. We acquired him at three weeks old, and as any baby does, he mostly ate, slept and pooped! As he started to get older, he started to explore his surroundings more and more. Looking around, trying to access taller surfaces, flapping his wings to get those muscles working! The rate at which he grew was just unbelievable, doubling his weight in just a couple of weeks, growing in size, in plumage and in courage. It didn’t take long for him to be able to access heights, and soon travel a few meters at a time. By the age of two months, he was fully feathered and flighted. Being able to witness the entire process is a moment in my career that I will never forget.

DC: As an educator, what is one thing about the animals you work with you think everyone should know?

GZ: I think it is important that everyone know that these birds, although they look very friendly during a show, are still wild birds at heart. They maintain their wild instincts despite being born in captivity and this emphasizes that a bird of prey should never be considered a pet. They have no affection towards their trainer, but trust that we are not there to cause harm. This makes for a very different relationship than one may be used to when working with animals.

Falcon Demonstration at Nature Canada's Bird Day Fair. Photography by Susanne Ure.

Falcon Demonstration at Nature Canada’s Bird Day Fair. Photography by Susanne Ure.

DC: How can an individual get involved in helping to protect these animals or conserve their environment?

GZ: There are many rehabilitation centres that encourage help from volunteers. This can be offered through help with installations (cleaning, preparing food) to helping with fundraising activities that better inform the public of risks and threats to different species. Otherwise, projects that promote protection to nature reserves, nesting success of certain species can also be supported.

DC: What do you like to do in your free time?

GZ: I like to figure skate and snowboard! Falconry is hunting which occurs mainly in the fall. When there’s no hunting I have time to participate in other activities.

DC: Where do you see yourself in the future?

GZ: Right here! I’ve made it!

Falcon Environmental Services, based out of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, features both both educational and business divisions. The company specializes in the removal of unwanted birds and animals from human development sites such as: airports, military installations and landfills using techniques like: live trap and release, falconry, trained dogs and pyrotechnic devices. They also provide teaching seminars and demonstrations on ecological preservation and birds of prey at schools and public events in Canada and the United States.

You can find them on the web at www.faucon.biz or at www.falconed.biz.

Thank you to our guest blogger Dylan Copland for this post. Dylan is a journalist and media specialist living in Ottawa, Ontario. He is currently volunteering with Nature Canada where he is writing about animals, nature and the people who love them. You can reach him at dmcopland@gmail.com and find his portfolio on the web at: dylancopland.wordpress.com.