After I graduated from college, I started out as an unpaid intern at Denver Zoo, then got a temporary paid position, and finally was hired as a full-time keeper.
I got a bachelor’s degree in Zoology at Colorado State University. While I was in college I did an internship in the bird lab, which helped me get some experience handling and studying birds. My internships at Denver Zoo were an opportunity for me to learn about zookeeping and get my foot in the door for this career.
Bird Keepers start the day by checking and finding all our birds, cleaning exhibits and feeding the birds. During the middle part of the day we prepare diets for the next day, do projects like breeding set-ups, enrichment and training projects, observations, or exhibit work. We also assist with medical procedures when needed. At the end of the day we feed and find birds again and make sure everyone is set for the night.
Physically there is a lot of heavy lifting and manual labor, but the hardest part for me is the emotional side when a bird is sick or passes away – just like with pets at home, this is part of life, but it is still hard to experience.
I love to watch our birds’ nest and raise chicks – knowing that I gave them what they needed to be successful is very rewarding.
We care for such a variety of birds, the diets vary quite a bit. Many of our birds eat fruit and bird pellet mixes, but we also have birds that eat meat, fish, and rodents. A lot of our birds enjoy live insects as well.
Ornithology was very helpful background for me and instilled a love of birds that I didn’t have before college, although I didn’t know at the time I would be pursuing a career with birds. Learning about and practicing public speaking was also an important skill I learned in school.
If you really want to be a zookeeper, it will likely be a long road in this competitive field! Just stay positive, be willing to travel and take chances (like working at a smaller zoo), and work hard – if your work shines you will make a name for yourself. Also, be sure that you enjoy interacting with guests, because that is an important part of our job that many people don’t think about.