Volunteer Spotlight: bekAH KIESTER
Inquisitive. Charming. Light-hearted. That’s how volunteer caretaker and presenter Bekah Kiester describes the Snowy Owl, Annik, now residing in a well-designed mew in her backyard. Her journey with Bird TLC began in school when Bird TLC's education birds were presented to her classroom. She was particularly taken with the story of One-Wing, the Bald Eagle, a survivor of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill who is a Bird TLC legend, and at a young age bought the book about this heroic bird. Years later in 2011 when exploring volunteer opportunities, she once again encountered Bird TLC and, thinking it would be a good fit for her interests, applied to join the Monday rehabilitation clinic crew. Her lead volunteer described her as diligent and dependable with a maturity beyond her years.
To save money for her dream of a college degree, Bekah obtained full-time employment at a credit union so left the crew work but not her interest in birds. Just as diligent as she was on the crew, she began studying and training to present Ghost, the Snowy Owl, and soon joined the other educational presenters who had completed the rigorous check-off process. Bekah was perhaps the youngest person to become a presenter, yet her demeanor and appearance exuded confidence and poise well beyond her years. Ghost “kept her on her toes” and though he had years of experience as an education bird, he would often change behaviors, requiring her to be continually attentive when working with him privately as well as in front of an audience.
Around the time she became a presenter, she began pursuing a degree in Psychology while also working part-time. As if that wasn’t enough, this indefatigable and calmly dynamic person was accepted as an Education Committee member. In addition, Bekah often visited Ghost while he was being housed at the clinic while his primary caretaker and presenter, Dave Dorsey, settled into a new location and awaited approval of the mew he had built there. While visiting Ghost, she encountered a young Snowy Owl from Barrow with a severe wing injury of unknown origin. Both the radius and ulna had been broken and by the time he arrived in the Bird TLC Clinic calcification had already set in and there was apparent nerve damage. Despite efforts to repair the damage enough for him to keep his wing, repeated bumping of the injury coupled with his ability to undo wing wraps pointed to amputation as the best alternative.
Having observed the trust relationship between Dave Dorsey and Ghost, Bekah set about developing a similar one with the new Snowy. During his initial and continued rehabilitation, Bekah would clean his mew and feed him at least five days each week while also spending time sitting with him. Eventually, the bird began to accept her presence so she moved slowly to introduce him to the glove, then her hand in the glove. After several months, the newly named Annik would step up on glove. Bekah applied to house him and was approved. Both the bird and the mew were approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and Annik began enthralling audiences at a full-fledged education bird! Going several steps further, his mew has a monitoring system so no matter where she is, Bekah can “observe him”. When it gets windy, she receives notification of the weather so can check on him from afar!
Of her very packed time with Bird TLC so far, Bekah sums up her experiences with the volunteers and staff as being enjoyable and “lots of fun” – the people make the difference. And, she says, “how many people get to have a Snowy Owl housed in their yard?” And how does she describe herself? Thoughtful. Fun-loving. Caring.
- Bird TLC volunteer Karen Coady