Over the past five years, I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. Australia, Alaska, California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas…
But it hasn’t been your typical, hotel-staying, tourist-destination vacation. Instead, I’ve traveled as an ecologist. It’s a far cry from luxury, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Read on for the 5 Pros and Cons of Working as an Ecological Field Technician.
Pro: Food Tastes Better Under the Stars
Food always tastes better under the stars. Whether it’s because I’m starving at the end of the field day or because my attention is on searching for a shooting star, it’s true. The best meal of my life was plain pasta–and I mean plain–because it was eaten under the visible Milky Way.
Con: It’s Kind of Exhausting…
I’ve learned to sleep anywhere and anytime.
We’re driving a couple hours to a new location? I’m asleep.
We’ve paused work to avoid the noon heat? I’m asleep.
It’s winter and the sun sets at 8 PM? I’m asleep.
It’s 6 AM and the sun hasn’t risen? I’m awake. It’s the only downside of working with birds. The workday begins before sunrise. No matter how many hours of sleep I achieve, waking up before the sun makes me about as lively as a pickled cucumber. It doesn’t help that I dislike coffee. Honestly, sometimes my love of birds isn’t quite enough for me to forget that my entire body hurts with tiredness. Exhaustion is definitely the biggest con for me!
Pro: Holding Wild Birds–It’s not Just a Disney Princess Thing
Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella…All these Disney Princesses possess so much grace and elegance that the birds and deer, losing all predator-prey instincts, are drawn to them.
I too have held wild birds in my hands. And snakes and mice and lots of bugs. But my charm isn’t quite as potent as a Disney princess’s…To hold these birds, I require nets and pre-sunset wake-ups (all performed with proper training and permitting). And the birds are not on board.
Even so, to hold a bird, to feel its tiny heartbeat against your palm, is truly magical.
I will say, one cold, mistnetting morning, a painted bunting decided it liked us. It refused to fly away when released and hung out in my colleague’s collar. Maybe us ecologists have some Disney Princess in us after all.
Con: Showers Aren’t a Daily Thing
Depending on what type of person you are, you might find the lack of showering a pro. For me, it swings between a neutral and a con. When you’re exhausted and outside all day, there’s little room to care that your hair is permanently knotted. There’s no one to impress, after all your colleagues are in the same boat as you and the raccoons definitely don’t care.
However, body odor can push this closer to a con. Usually, noseblindness sets in relatively quickly. But certain people possess such potent body odors that they can’t be ignored.
I don’t think my body odor is of the potent variety, even after my record of 12 days sans shower. But honestly, this feels so normal that I can’t remember if the 12-day record was in Texas or Australia…
Pro: Access to Protected Natural Areas
Protected natural areas are so necessary in a world where people don’t know how to not litter or disturb animals and plants. I say this as someone who leads tours into such protected areas. No matter how much you emphasize leave no trace, something is always left behind.
Even so, it can be disappointing to be blocked off from protected areas of nature. As an ecologist, not only do I have access to these blocked areas, but I play an important role in protecting them. From protected areas of California’s Redwood Forests to protected spring-fed creeks in San Antonio, I have been granted access to some of the most beautiful natural treasures in the world.
Overall, I wouldn’t trade my ecological technician position for anything in the world. Birds are my passion and no con will ever make me give it up. I’ve been doing it for years and nothing brings me more joy.
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