The Munsterer Minute is a twice-monthly Q and A featuring celebrities of the Upper Valley. Join the fun as Becky Munsterer, local blogger at NovelNibble.com, interviews folks you might just recognize! To nominate a local celebrity, email email@example.com.
Local columnist, Becky Munsterer of Norwich, talks turkey vultures, contra-dancing and marshmallow peeps with Rebecca Novello, an intern at the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vermont.
How long have you worked at VINS? What are your daily responsibilities?
I’ve worked at VINS since this past November, and I’ll be here through October. Currently, my daily responsibilities include tending to any rehab patients, feeding baby birds, cleaning permanent resident birds’ enclosures, feeding babies, preparing diets for all of the birds on campus, feeding babies, performing intake exams on and evaluating the needs of incoming rehab patients, feeding babies, doing various little programs for members of the public, feeding babies, feeding rehab patients and permanent residents, and feeding babies. The baby birds have to be fed a lot.
What drew you to VINS? Can you tell us a little about your career path?
I was an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major in college, and I was looking to volunteer at a place that did wildlife rehabilitation. I found VINS, which was incredibly lucky because I’m particularly interested in birds. That whole year, I volunteered in CWBR on my Sunday afternoons, mopping floors, feeding the exhibit birds, doing laundry — whatever needed to get done to keep things running smoothly. I loved getting to see the birds up close and starting to develop a better understanding of avian physiology and natural history, so I applied for an internship. After working as a field assistant in Greenland with an Ecology grad student over the summer and working at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge this past fall, I started at VINS.
We understand you graduated from Dartmouth, and decided to stay in the Upper Valley? Where are you from originally? What’s your favorite thing about this area?
I’m originally from DC-well-really-Maryland-right-outside-of-DC. Besides the mountains and the gorgeous changes of season, I absolutely love the contra dancing scene. Montpelier’s my go-to, but on occasion, I love getting down to Brattleboro and Greenfield, too. I love dancing, and there’s such a wonderful community of dancers up here.
As a child, did you have tendencies towards helping animals?
As I recall, there was a lot of crying over roadkill and a lot of idolizing a neighbor who was a keeper at the National Zoo’s small mammal house. I remember plopping some baby birds back in their nests, too. (Public Service Announcement: the thing about the parents smelling you and rejecting the nestling is a total wives’ tale — most birds have a pretty bad sense of smell).
What’s something that visitors would be surprised to know about the animals at VINS?
Several of them have very specific dietary preferences and habits. Our exhibit Great Horned Owls will eat rabbit no questions asked, but our program Great Horned snubs it every time. If you don’t gut the Barn Owl’s mice, he’ll do it himself and spread the intestines all over his enclosure. The Cedar Waxwings go crazy for red grapes over any other type of fruit. The Snowy Owl prefers small mice to large ones. No one likes liver except the Turkey Vulture. We prep their food every day, so we get to know their dietary idiosyncrasies pretty intimately.
Do you have a favorite animal?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite, but there are certain birds at VINS that I absolutely love. Turkey Vultures are incredible creatures, and I’ve grown to admire them more over the past few months. Most recently, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Harris’s Hawks. Harris’s Hawks live in the southwest desert and hunt cooperatively — up to seven hawks will work together to take down a jackrabbit. They’ll tag-team hunts, flush prey out of bushes for other members of their group to snatch up, and even stack on top of one another in a sort of Harris’s Hawk totem pole to get a better view of their surroundings.
When someone visits VINS, what’s your best “insider’s advice” for getting the most out of the visit?
Your pass is good for the whole day even if you come and go. We mix up the programs, so you’ll usually be able to see different ones throughout the day — right now, we’re doing a general raptor program in the morning and a “Talk to the Trainer” program in the afternoon, where you learn all about how we choose and train our program birds. If you’re visiting in the summer, come by the one-way viewing window in the CWBR building to see the baby birds (especially on the half our — that’s when we feed them)! Our volunteers also feed the exhibit birds at 2:45 six days a week, which can be really fun to watch. In your spare time, check out our trail system and our new “Birds are Dinosaurs” exhibit (more on this later)!
Angry Birds, the video game. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
I actually don’t own a smart phone, but I did play it on my uncle’s iPad once, and I must say that I don’t condone launching any wildlife into the air, regardless of attitude. So I guess thumbs down.
The Birdcage, the movie. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Thumbs up. I miss Robin Williams.
Marshmallow Peeps, the candy. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Thumbs up because of the Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest — I follow it religiously.
Wind Beneath My Wings, the song. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Thumbs up. Bette Midler and her synthesizer are the wind beneath MY wings.
Can you describe yourself in a paragraph?
A hopeless idealist with a penchant for scientific investigation. Loves social dancing, vocal harmonies, and summer swims in the Connecticut. A sucker for romantic period dramas, thematic memoirs, and team sports.
Anything special you want us to know about VINS?
Our “Birds are Dinosaurs” exhibit just opened and it's all about the evolution of modern-day birds from their dinosaur ancestors. You walk through 250 million years of evolutionary history to get a sense of how certain adaptations arose and learn about all of the incredible scientific discoveries that have been made about those adaptations over the past few years. So much work has gone into this exhibit, and it’s wicked cool.
To learn more about the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, visit http://www.vinsweb.org/