This Job’s For The Birds


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Some important diseases are concerns for more than just cattle

Article courtesy of the National FFA Organization

Anastasia Sturgis of the Orlando-Colonial FFA Chapter in Florida has an unusual weekend hobby. Instead of hitting the mall or the beach like many teenage girls, Anastasia spends her Saturdays caring for rescued parrots, macaws and cockatoos at the Seminole County Parrot Rescue & Sanctuary in Geneva, Fla.

Anastasia, a 2015 graduate from Colonial High School, started an internship at the parrot rescue center in 10th grade, and now she plans to make a career out of rehabilitating endangered wildlife. Her interest in birds started when she was only 5 years old.

“I’ve always loved the zoo and all kinds of animals. Steve Irwin is my hero, and I spent every weekend growing up watching Crocodile Hunter,” Anastasia says. “When I was 5, my parents bought me a duckling, and I raised him. Then I got a gecko and two rescued cockatiels, one of which had an injured wing. Working with those two little guys sparked my interest in the pet bird trade.”


Friend of animals

Because she lives in a residential area, Anastasia didn’t have space to keep many animals. But that didn’t stop her.

“In middle school, I joined 4-H and started getting more animals and keeping them at a friend’s farm,” she says. “I went there every day to take care of them.”

Anastasia discovered the internship opportunity at the parrot rescue center via social media after her freshman year of high school, and she jumped at the chance to get more hands-on experience with wildlife. Ellen Sherman, owner of the rescue center, invited her out to look around. The property is home to more than 100 parrots, as well as pigeons, crows, tortoises and exotic birds.

“I got to meet all her birds and learn their stories,” Anastasia recalls. “A lot of the birds are sweet and calm, but a few are aggressive because they’ve been neglected or abused. Nearly all of them are former pets.”

Anastasia’s favorite residents are the Eclectus parrots – small, colorful parrots known among bird enthusiasts for their sexual dimorphism, a distinct difference in the appearance of males and females of the same species.

“The females are bright ruby red with purple tips, and the males are bright emerald green with blue and orange accents,” Anastasia explains. “For a long time, researchers thought they were two completely different birds.”

Some of the resident birds can talk, including a crow named Hoppy who grew up around parrots and learned to talk like they do.

“He jumps around and says, ‘Hi, Hoppy!’,” Anastasia says, laughing. “He’s so funny.”

Sherman says Anastasia has been a big help with cleaning up after the birds and interacting with them.

“She’s a smart girl who picks up on things quickly, and she’s not afraid of hard work,” Sherman says. “It’s hard to find young people like her who are so on top of things. Anastasia has a mind that absorbs everything, so she will be successful at whatever career she chooses.”


FFA involvement

Colonial High School is fortunate to have a large agriculture lab where Anastasia and her dad, Gil, built an aviary. She keeps her own breeding pair of wood ducks, a pair of Mandarins and a pair of pintail ducks at the aviary.

“I’m working on breeding them, and my goal is to sell them,” she says. “People enjoy having them just for pleasure but they also like conserving the breed. Wood ducks used to be endangered.”

In 2014, Anastasia won the small animal production and care proficiency at the National FFA Convention & Expo. She is now attending the University of Florida to study Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, and she credits FFA for inspiring her to reach for her goals.

“My FFA advisor, Timothy App, arranged a field trip for me to visit the University of Florida and meet with the dean of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department,” she says. “He has always pushed me to step outside my comfort zone. The public speaking and other FFA experiences I’ve had are already helping me reach my career goals.”

Anastasia’s experience at the parrot rescue center has also been valuable.

“I’ve learned how to handle the birds and catch them safely,” she says. “When we have new birds come in, they are nervous and scared, so it’s important to know how to handle them.”

The best thing about working with wildlife, Anastasia says, is changing an animal’s life for the better.

“I love it when we get an animal from bad circumstances and we’re able to get them back on track both nutritionally and personality-wise,” she says. “To see those animals enjoy themselves, be happy and get a second chance at life is an amazing thing.”

Six Fun Facts About Parrots

  1. There are more than 300 species of parrots worldwide – ranging in length from about 4 inches up to 40 inches.
  2. Some species of parrots can live for more than 80 years in the wild.
  3. In the wild, parrots live in flocks and communicate with loud screeching and squawking sounds.
  4. All parrots are zygodactyls. This means they have four toes on each foot, two pointing forward and two projecting backward. Their sharp claws allow them to climb and perch on trees.
  5. Most species of parrots in the wild build their homes in holes, in trees, rock cavities, tunnels in the ground and termite mounds.
  6. Only parrots kept as pets mimic people and noises. African Greys are the best mimics of human speech. African Grey parrots have also been taught to count, identify objects and speak short sentences in response to questions.