Meet Aimee Milarski, Aviculturist, Upland Tropical Rain Forest
How long have you been at the Aquarium?
I've been at the Aquarium for three and a half years.
What interested you to pursue your current career path?
One of my best friends in high school was volunteering at the National Aviary (Pittsburgh, PA) for her graduation project. She would share stories about how much fun it was to work with all the birds. It sparked my interest, so we continued to volunteer on the weekends. I started volunteering when I was 14 years old and continued all the way through college. My experiences were invaluable. I even consulted the keepers at the Aviary on their career paths and they directed me on which major to pursue!
Briefly describe your day-to-day.
My day begins with making diets and animal inventory in the Upland Tropical Rainforest exhibit. This inventory helps us assess the birds for health issues and locate nest sites and hatchings. Of course when making the diets, cleanup follows. We do lots and lots of dishes!
Next, I head downstairs to the Sea Cliffs exhibit which houses Atlantic puffins, razorbills and black guillemots. Opening routine involves cleaning the exhibit glass, hosing the exhibit mats, deck brushing the beach area and cleaning all of the nooks & crannies (in our case rocks & barnacles) in the exhibit. There are two daily talks during the Sea Cliffs exhibit feedings. Preparation for the talks involves thawing the fish which will be fed throughout the day.
After cleaning and diet prep, it's back upstairs to the rain forest for food refreshing. The hot temperature in the exhibit means that we are constantly exchanging food items throughout the day. Depending on the time of year, we may also be using these feedings to watch for fledglings negotiating the exhibit. In the afternoon, there are a few more keeper talks. We end the day with recalls for our parrot species and golden lion tamarins and temperature checks of the air and water for the Sea Cliffs exhibit.
What’s your favorite Aquarium memory?
My favorite memory is watching an Atlantic puffin chick hatch. Right before hatch, the chick will start pipping. The process take about 3-4 days as it moves into the air cell in the egg and then starts breaking through the shell. Right then, its entire world changed. It's phenomenal to watch the whole event unfold.
What's the best part of your day?
In the fall and winter, there are many days that we get to see the sunrise in the Rainforest. It's so beautiful to see the first light pierce through the leaves. Amidst a blanket of warm mist, the birds start calling, a few even bathing in the bromeliads. It is an incredibly serene moment.
What advice do you have for someone hoping to pursue a career similar to yours?
Seek out as many opportunities as you can that involve animal husbandry. Start volunteering, apply for internships at aquariums and zoos and begin gaining hands-on experience.
Stay tuned as we highlight more staff for National Zookeeper Appreciation Week!