Volunteer Spotlight: Calvin Dowling

We asked Calvin some questions about his time with Wild Ontario. Here's what he said:

1. Why did you decide to volunteer for Wild Ontario?

For as far back as my memory goes, I've always been known for two main things - having a keen interest in the natural world, and talking a lot. I was also very good at putting these together, and blabbing anybody's ear off about animals if they'd listen. When I was lucky enough to stumble across a Wild Ontario presentation in the fall of grade eleven at the Ontario Nature Youth Summit, I noted that I'd be able to combine these two qualities of mine and do something really cool and fun with it. I had already wanted to go to Guelph for postsecondary education, but upon taking in this fun, engaging, and overall neat program first-hand - the deal was done. I decided right then and there that I'd apply to the program upon my arrival in Guelph - and I did just that two years later!

2. When did you join the program?

I joined Wild Ontario during the fall of 2014, during my very first undergraduate semester at the University of Guelph. It was the number one best decision that I've made in my academic career, and I haven't looked back since day one!

3. What have you learned/how have you grown through this experience?

The number one thing that I've learned over the years with this program is leadership. I was always nervous of coming across as bossy, or having people think that I thought of myself as above others. In time, I've learned how to be an effective, productive, and supportive leader - and I'm now able to mentor/help people in a way that all parties involved feel positive, understood, and involved in their own learning. However, this is just one small piece of the pie - I learn something new everyday really with this program!

4. How would you describe the bird(s) you work with?

As mentioned in many previous volunteer spotlights, it's important when talking about animals that we limit our anthropomorphism of them. In layperson terms - it's best to be realistic and careful when we assign human emotions when describing or discussing animals. I'll try to stick to that as much as possible, but really one kind of has to deviate just a bit from that guideline within reason for this question! I've been lucky enough to work with five sets of birds over the years in some capacity, but for the sake of not needing two webpages to fit all of this - I'll focus on the three that I've worked with most closely.

The first raptor that I handled in this program was Whistler, our Broad-winged Hawk. She may be very elderly (19) and derpy on first glance, but don't let her fool you - she can still dish out a lot out a lot of sass when she's feeling particularly territorial or eager! Working with her was a tad intimidating at first, as she has a very loud whistle/scream vocalization (which is beautiful) - and she isn't afraid to let it fly. However, it's hard not to fall in love with her. She is a rock-solid education bird, often choosing to stand on one leg and puff out her feathers - which is a sign of being very comfortable. Her flying is also spectacular, although in her older age - she's not really cut out to do big lengths with ease anymore. Overall, she is full of character and quirk - and we all think the world of her!

After two years with Whistler, I shuffled over to work with Einstein, our show-stopping Great Horned Owl. Talk about a change! While Whis can be unpredictable and quick with decisions at times, Ein is total slow motion. Her movements are much more robotic and easy to guess well in advance, and it's much like math when working with her. If you do this, this, and this - you're most likely to get a certain outcome. Beyond this, it's interesting to note the changes in her overall ways with time. Once a bird that had little interest in eating in front of people, no response to enrichment, and a difficult time overall with any sort of training - she has come a long way with patience, small adjustments, and lots of positive reinforcement. She'll now take bits of food from your hand or glove, and her favourite thing ever is a big ball of newspaper to shred into tiny bits. It's been fun to be at least a small part of her transformation, and I can't wait to see how she keeps improving.

Just recently, I was moved once again to focus on our adorable female American Kestrel, Artemis. Just like the last two, Arty is a whole different ball game. Highly food eager, constant fast lane attitude, and content with pretty well anything are all fine descriptors of this little puffball. It's hard to imagine the program without her - she's just so reliable! She is a breeze/joy to handle, and I'm excited to see where things go with her!

5. What’s up next for you?

You tell me - as you likely have just as good an idea as I do! I'm just starting my fourth year of the University of Guelph's B.Sc program, majoring in Zoology. However, I've taken my time with my degree, so I'll likely be around for at least another year or two. After that I have some ideas and goals, but I've kind of learned to just let life take me where it so well pleases, and to enjoy surprise opportunities when they arise. I do enjoy the animal husbandry/education world, as well as being out in the field - so I imagine/hope my future will include those sorts of things. Wherever I end up, I'll always count this experience as one of the best, and I hope to be involved for many years to come in at least some capacity!

6. What others say about Calvin:

"Calvin is as dedicated as they come. He's constantly putting in extra hours setting up for programs, prepping food, training new volunteers, cleaning and doing whatever else needs doing. On top of it all he's a super nice person, and a pleasure to work with!"

"Calvin is a great mentor! He goes above and beyond to support the whole team and helps us reach our potential as volunteers. It's obvious that he loves Wild Ontario!"

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