Florida Field Tech Laura Young

“What do you do for a living?”

It’s a pretty common question to hear, now that I’m an adult (well, as “adult” as a 23-year-old can be). It naturally follows the other basics: name, age, location of birth… But it’s the “what do you do?” that I always look forward to. Because with an answer like mine, I get some seriously mixed reactions.

My answer is that I’m a wildlife biologist who studies birds. I get all kinds of responses to this. More often than I’d like, I get confusion and disbelief, as in, why would you want to do something like that? And I’ve met the occasional bird-hater, outdoors-fearer, and environmentalism-scorner, too. But nine times out of ten, I get something like this:

“OH MY GOSH! That’s a real job? You get paid to play outside with animals?!”

And truly, the answer is yes.

This really strikes a chord with some people. Sometimes I’m dragged down the rabbit hole of explaining every exciting, frightening, and unique experience of my still-young career. There was the time I heard two mountain lions fighting a few hundreds meters from me at night, for example. Or my brief stint caring for an ostrich at a zoo. Or my first time holding a baby Spotted Owl. These are all crowd-pleasing stories. But the truth is, every single one of my seasonal jobs is full of great stories. Every day as a wildlife biologist makes a great story to me, because I spend my life exploring the world and chasing birds.

Life as a Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow technician for the Ecostudies Institute is no different – but it’s no cakewalk, either. Working in the Everglades can be tough. We hike through muck and tangled grasses in the beating sun every day, searching for a federally endangered (and therefore scarce) bird, toting 20 pounds of gear, and balancing the risks of cottonmouths, wildfires, thunderstorms, and heat stress. This is no airboat tour; we’re really in there.


We’re still lucky, though. We get an experience that few others can match. The marl prairies we hike in are unbelievably beautiful, especially at sunrise, when everything is shimmering with dew. We bank and soar over the swirling landscape in helicopters, too (and that is a rush unlike any other). We get to watch and interact with a subspecies of bird that most people will never see. And, hey, even a cottonmouth is a pretty awe-inspiring sight, once you make it past the heart palpitations.

So yeah, I can see why most people are amazed at the thought of having a job like mine. Frankly, I’m amazed too; I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to do. I can’t wait to find out what stories I’ll get to tell someday about working here, on the forefront of conservation, with Ecostudies. Something tells me they’ll be crowd-pleasers too.

Marl prairie in SW Florida

Marl prairie in SW Florida