Veterinarian Erica Miller, who examined the two Duke Farms Bald Eagle chicks as part of the recent banding, has been a vet for 27 years. She has worked with wild birds for two decades.
She currently works as a zoo veterinarian, and has worked with a variety of other wildlife, including mammals and reptiles.
Erica first banded birds as an undergraduate college student majoring in zoology. She has been banding eagles with state wildlife biologist Kathy Clark and the NJ Eagle Project since 1994.
Erica has banded more than 375 young eagles with Kathy in New Jersey. She has also banded nearly 100 bald eagles that have been rehabilitated and released, some of these from NJ.
In Part One of the interview, she discusses being a veterinarian. On Thursday, in Part Two, she discusses banding and examining the young eagles.
What do you do when you’re not banding eagles?
During the rest of the year I fill my time with a number of part-time jobs and projects.
I’m the veterinarian at the Brandywine Zoo in Delaware, I co-teach a course in Wildlife Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, I do some veterinary work at Mercer County Wildlife Center in Lambertville and at Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research in Delaware, and I do some pathology work for the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, Project SNOWstorm, and the Smithsonian Osteoprep Lab.
How satisfying has it been to be a veterinarian?
Veterinary medicine has been an extremely satisfying career for me! I have had the fortune of getting to work with a lot of really interesting species, have been able to collaborate with some really great people working on all sorts of projects to help animals, and I’m always learning a lot from both the animals and the people!
The toughest challenge on a daily basis is finding the time to do everything I want to do! But that’s certainly not unique to wildlife veterinary medicine!
The lack of funds to do all we would like to do (like run the tests on the blood samples) is also a challenge.
Daily challenges range from tough orthopedic cases to trying to get a finicky patient to take a pill (“hidden” in food) to trying to convince a well-meaning person to put the baby rabbit back where they found it rather than trying to raise it (the mother rabbit doesn’t spend much time at the nest, and the young rabbit will be better off raised by the doe than by a human!).
Any species you are concerned about, and why? What can be done?
There are a lot of wildlife species whose numbers are still low or declining in NJ: Kestrels, Bog Turtles, Pine Snakes, Golden-winged Warblers, and many others.
So I think the species that concerns me the most is Homo sapiens! Unless we as a species start taking better care of the environment, we AND a lot of other species are going to pay the price!
I’m concerned that many people aren’t aware of the impact they have can have on other species…both negative and positive impacts. I think we can lower the number and degree of negative impacts and increase the positive impacts through things like the Eagle Webcam … engaging people, especially younger people, in the lives and activities of wildlife.
Once you’re hooked, you naturally want to help them—and we can all do that in our daily lives, whether we do it by not littering, by recycling, or by becoming wildlife biologists…we can all contribute to improving the planet!
What advice do you have for a student thinking of becoming a veterinarian?
First, find out if you really want to do it. The schooling requires a big commitment in time and money, and it’s a lot of studying and hard work.
So volunteer at an animal shelter, a vet clinic, a wildlife rehab center, a zoo, or wherever they have the kind of animals that interest you.
And talk to the vets in those places, as well as the other workers (vet techs, keepers, dog trainers, rehabilitators, etc.), and make sure a veterinary career is right for you—or maybe opt for one of these other animal-related careers.
If you decide on veterinary medicine, jump in with both feet! It’s a great profession with so many opportunities to help animals in so many ways.
THURSDAY: Erica Miller talks about banding and examining the young eagles.
Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at email@example.com.
Jim Wright writes “The Bird Watcher” columnist for The [Bergen] Record. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and a deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.