Things to know and consider before applying for or accepting a position with the University of Florida Wading Bird Project.
If you don’t like to get dirty… This is not a traditional bird position where we may sit in blinds or run mist nets. We work with oily boat engines, walk through mucky and guano-laden waters, and handle birds that use feces and regurgitation as defensive tools. If you have an aversion to getting dirty, or wading through water, this may not be the best fit for you.
If you are a smoker… be aware that the vast majority of your time will be spent in smoke-free environments—airboats, airplanes, university vehicles, university housing, and nesting colonies.
If you are prone to road rage… We spend a lot of time in large, slow vehicles towing unwieldy airboats. Miami traffic is like that of almost any large city— frustrating and, at times, menacing. If you are either a timid or an aggressive driver, or are averse to hourly commutes, you will find this aspect of the job challenging.
If you are “gatorphobic”… Alligators do not normally prey on adult humans, but they do prey on birds, and we will be frequenting nesting colonies where young birds often fall into the waters below. So yes, we do work around gators. Most alligators in the marsh are small and actively avoid us. Some are not so small but will keep their distance. On occasion, we may walk up close to, and then around, an alligator in our path. If these last two scenarios are cause for great anxiety, you may not want this position.
If you are regularly impacted by motion sickness… If you don’t like amusement park rides, flying in small airplanes may not be the way you want spend your Spring. We repeatedly circle colonies as we count and take pictures, and later in the mornings the air gets bumpy. Most of those flying will want to take some motion sickness preventative because we read and take notes while bouncing along inside the (often uncomfortably warm and tight) aircraft. If, however, you are especially sensitive to this type of movement or get carsick easily, please let the project manager know. About 50% of past participants have become sick in the plane and have to sit out future flights (usually willingly after seeing their breakfast twice).
Mosquito diseases and stinging insects are numerous… Mosquitoes in most of the country now carry West Nile Virus, and other outbreaks including Zika and Dengue have occurred in South Florida in recent years. Even with DEET and other mechanical forms of protection, you are likely going to endure some mosquito bites. West Nile is rarely serious, but those with immune response deficiencies are at special risk. Additonally, stinging insects such as wasps, caterpillars, ants, etc. are plentiful, and at times throughout the field season, we may be hours away from emergency services in the event of anaphylactic shock.
Those are the negatives. The positives of this position are MANY times more numerous. The Florida Everglades area is a unique and spectacular environment in which to work. You will see and do things few other people ever have the opportunity to experience, something you will remember for your entire career. You will learn a range of skills that are applicable to many other wildlife positions, and more importantly, you will (with perseverance) demonstrate the capacity to develop and use such skills in the most challenging of conditions.