Walking Two Days in a Partner’s Shoes

Cody Sowers, Head Bird Keeper at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, helped examine Killdeer chicks while volunteering at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center. Photos: Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue

What happens when a zoo bird keeper volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center for two days? It may seem like a similar skill set, and it is, however, the pace of rehabilitation work was a bit of an adjustment for Cody Sowers, Head Bird Keeper at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (CZBG).

Cody volunteered for two days at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in May to learn the day-to-day routine of a wildlife rehabilitator at the start of the busy baby bird season. With only a small fraction of the staff and equipment a zoo generally has, the overall working pace at a rehabilitation facility is a different experience.

“One of the biggest takeaways for me was just the number of birds that you all deal with on a regular basis,” Cody told Bird Rescue. “Being at your facility and seeing the birds and how they were impacted was big for me. […] Once you would get into a groove with the current workload, the bell would ring and another bird would show up.”

Cody Sowers had the opportunity to release a recovered Pacific Loon patient back into the wild.

Proactive partnerships like this open opportunities for organizations to learn from and teach each other best care practices. In the case of a wildlife emergency, they can bring people together to save an entire generation of species. Over the course of two eventful days, Cody assisted in examining a variety of birds including Killdeer chicks. He even had the opportunity to release a recovered Pacific Loon back to the wild, the most rewarding experience for rehabilitators.

Cody’s introduction to International Bird Rescue began in South Africa during the 2019 Kimberley Flamingo Crisis. Around 2,000 Lesser Flamingo chicks were abandoned by their parents due to a severe drought, and they were rescued and transferred to a variety of facilities across the country. He and Kylie Clatterbuck, Manager for Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center, were assigned to Lory Park Animal and Owl Sanctuary in Midrand to work with roughly 120 chicks.

“I had not worked with flamingos before, and I was able to learn a lot about them from Cody,” Kylie said. “I am grateful for CZBG’s support of our program and the opportunity to host Cody at our wildlife center. It’s experiences and partnerships like these that help improve Bird Rescue’s ability to save wildlife and build lasting connections within the bird community.”

Cincinnati Zoo’s Conservation of Research and Endangered Wildlife (CREW) helps world-renowned scientists form critical partnerships with other leading conservationists and governmental and non-governmental organizations in saving species. For the past couple of years, the CREW program has donated grants to Bird Rescue. The program is a great way for zookeepers to get involved in conservation projects.

“At CZBG, we do conservation work all over the world,” Cody said. “Native U.S. seabirds need our help too, so it is nice to be able to contribute to what IBR does with this grant over the past couple years. Hopefully we can continue for years to come!”

Bird Rescue has partnered with zoos and aquariums throughout our history, and we welcome more opportunities to build relationships and ultimately help birds in a changing world.