Outdoors
Lacie Penven has spent almost her entire Alaskan life working with wild animals particular to the state: snowy owls, brown bears, bald eagles.
Lacie Penven, Raptor Handler 120413 OUTDOORS 1 Capital City Weekly Lacie Penven has spent almost her entire Alaskan life working with wild animals particular to the state: snowy owls, brown bears, bald eagles.

Bjorn Dihle

Lacie Penven, bird handler and trainer, works with Kily, a Harlan's hawk (a subspecies of the red-tailed hawk.) Kily has "behavioral abnormalities" that make it impossible to release him into the wild. He was rescued by hikers as a chick. Now, Penven said, he either thinks he's a human or that humans are hawks.


Bjorn Dihle

Lacie Penven, bird handler and trainer, works with Quigiq, a snowy owl who was rescued after being hit by a car in the Lower 48. Snowy owls sometimes migrate long distances during lean years.


Bjorn Dihle

Lacie Penven, bird handler and trainer, works with Quigiq, a snowy owl who was rescued after being hit by a car in the Lower 48. Snowy owls sometimes migrate long distances during lean years.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Story last updated at 12/4/2013 - 2:26 pm

Lacie Penven, Raptor Handler

SITKA — Lacie Penven has spent almost her entire Alaskan life working with wild animals particular to the state: snowy owls, brown bears, bald eagles.

She grew up in New Jersey, which is “not a very good place for working with wildlife,” she said, laughing.

Penven had known from a young age that she was interested in science, so she went to school for environmental studies.

“I just always kind of had an interest in it since I was little,” she said. “I really enjoy science, and animal science was a great one to get into.”

But Alaska had always “been one of my dreams,” Penven said.

So she saved up money and, in 2002, she moved to Sitka and began attending Sheldon Jackson College. That’s when she began working at the Alaska Raptor Center.

“I just fed, cleaned, learned nutrition, and built habitat,” she said.

Penven would also help out with rescues, and got on-the-job training.

“It was a lot of experience, and it was really fun,” she said.

Penven needed 250 hours with smaller raptors and 500 hours with eagles before she could handle the birds on her own. Penven’s mentor trained her until she started handling the birds about four years ago.

She did take about a year and a half off from the Raptor Center to work with brown bears at the Fortress of the Bear, also in Sitka.

“They’ve always been really interesting and a little bit scary,” Penven said. “They’re so smart. And it gave me a different experience with a different species.”

Penven did lots of education—and, in a constant in working with animals, lots of cleaning.

She worked with a brown bear then named Pandora and now named Lucy, who ended up being sent to Montana Grizzly Encounter, a rescue and education sanctuary.

During her time at the Fortress, she said she was impressed with the bears’ intelligence and the problem-solving ability.

“If they had opposable thumbs, we’d be in trouble,” she said.

Ultimately, however, she went back to birds.

“I feel like I understand them a lot better. It’s kind of like a niche,” she said. “It just comes pretty easily for me… it’s just been a really rewarding job.”

Each bird is different, with a set of behaviors and a personality to which she has to tailor her approach. When a bird’s being aggressive, she has to figure out how to make it calm down.

“You have to be able to read their body language,” Penven said. “You can make them a little more comfortable if you don’t walk directly at them or look them in the eye.”

The Alaska Raptor Center doesn’t use “forceful training,” she said, which is basically what it sounds like — somehow forcing the bird, sometimes through punishment, to participate.

“We don’t force them to do anything,” Penven said. “They have a choice whether they want to participate or not. It takes more time, but it’s more rewarding.”

She feels a special kinship with Sitka, a female bald eagle who’s a permanent resident of the facility. Sitka, she said, has a calm personality. She’s also very playful. When Penven takes Sitka outside for exercise, sometimes she’ll throw a stick in Indian River and Sitka will chase it in. It serves, in a way, as a semblance of the hunting she can no longer do.

“She’s kind of a goofy bird,” Penven said. “She either likes you or rejects you, so I’m glad she likes me.”

She also feels a bond with Quigiq, the snowy owl at the center. And right now she’s training a golden eagle.

“You build new relationships with new birds and it’s always kind of challenging, which is part of the attraction of the job too — the challenge of it, building a relationship with an animal,” Penven said.

She still builds habitat and designs enclosures, a challenge specific to the bird with whom she’s working.

“You really have to understand that bird’s advantages and disadvantages to get them comfortable in that enclosure,” Penven said.

She also educates the public and goes on rescues.

“You never know what injuries you’re going to come across. It’s really rewarding getting them into the clinic and seeing them come back into health again — from the flight center all the way through to release,” she said.


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