Ever come across a news article about a bird, like a Red-tailed hawk, being lost or injured and taken to a wildlife clinic, avian veterinary hospital or regional Audubon Society for help? These stories are countless, and the successful release of such birds may be what inspires some people to pursue training to become avian vet techs. Of course, not all avian vet techs work with birds in wildlife rescue centers or have a newsworthy rescue story to tell. However, there are plenty of other birds, such as exotic birds like cockatiels and parrots, which become ill or are injured and that need the assistance of avian vet techs as well.
For instance, both wild and domesticated birds can suffer wing injuries that require veterinary care. A veterinarian or even an avian vet technician can assess the injury and investigate whether it’s a wound or something different such as broken blood feathers . (Blood feathers are simply new feathers that are growing). Part of an avian vet technician’s job might be removing such feathers when it is deemed necessary. Birds can also suffer broken wings, perhaps from a cat or a dog attack, and avian vet techs might assist to ensure the wing is wrapped close to the body to prevent further injury and to facilitate the healing process.
In general, avian vet techs have a number of responsibilities when it comes to caring for birds. Often, these include basic tasks, such as assessment or initial care, taking body weight, and doing fecal testing and routine blood work. At other times, working as an avian vet tech means aiding a fully-trained veterinarian or avian veterinarian with treatment or surgery. A Q&A with an avian vet tech posted on the Association of Avian Veterinarians website can provide more details about responsibilities.
Many bird owners can become close to their birds, which may be why some invest so much in care. Some birds, like the African Grey parrot, are quite intelligent and may even be given a name like Einstein. As well, some of these bird owners pay substantial money for these birds and will take the steps to assure they are cared for. African Grey juveniles can cost from $800 to $1,200, and many of their owners, as well as owners of similar types of birds, know that avian vet technicians and avian veterinarians have received the exotic bird training necessary to help care for them.
Nationwide, job opportunities for all types of vet techs are growing. In fact, job growth for all veterinarian technicians is expected to reach 52 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is growth significantly faster than average, according to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. As a result, approximately 41,700 new vet tech jobs are expected to be created during this time. Unfortunately, the BLS does not aggregate job growth for specific vet tech fields, like for avian vet technicians, but it does suggest that overall growth in the field will be strong for a number of reasons. These include new advances in veterinary medicine that require employees with more skilled training, an increasing number of pets in need of care in the U.S., and more employees to help take on responsibilities that vets no longer have time to do.
Just because the BLS does not provide job growth information for avian vet technicians doesn’t mean there is a lack of jobs. Indeed, veterinarians specializing in exotic bird care may be some of the most likely to employ vet techs. As well graduates of avian vet tech schools or those currently in an avian vet tech school or program may want to keep a tab on the job board available through the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Of course, membership is required, but this includes a quarterly subscription to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. As well, zoos could be a potential employment source for graduates. For example, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums posts jobs for vet techs that could be relevant to those specializing in avian training.
The website SimplyHired indicates that the average pay for avian vet technicians was $35,000 as of September 2013. This is just slightly more than the $33,000 that SimplyHired lists as the average pay that all vet techs earn across the board. As well, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median average wage for vet techs working nationwide was $30,290 as of May 2013. However, the BLS indicates that variances do exist. Experience and state or region where vet techs work could be factors. Vet techs in the highest 10 percent of the occupation working nationwide earned up to $44,030 while those in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $21,030, according to the BLS.
Graduates of vet tech programs, including those of avian vet tech school, will need to take the computer-based Veterinarian Technician National Examination available through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. This test will assess their understanding and comprehension and scores will be sent to their state licensing agency. Applicants who pass this exam will then need to complete any additional steps required by the state to be eligible for licensing; it is important to understand the requirements.
The BLS lists a number of qualities that are necessary to work as vet tech and these do apply to graduates of avian vet tech schools. Among the qualities are high manual dexterity, which could be beneficial when working with birds, a strong ability to communicate, and compassion. Unlike other vet tech specialists, graduates of avian vet tech programs will not necessarily work with animals of great weight. However, they do need to be able to help restrain birds and keep them calm so an even and soothing manner may be helpful.
Most avian vet techs need to complete a two-year associate of science degree to be able to look for work. The BLS indicates that more than 190 American Veterinary Medical Association accredited vet tech programs are available in the U.S. –- some even online – so potential students of avian vet tech schools should find plenty of options about becoming a vet tech for birds. These students may want to look for specific programs for avian vet techs or take as much avian or exotic-bird related coursework as possible.
Hillsborough Community College in Florida, for example, offers a course in avian and exotic pet medicine as part of its associate of science degree vet tech program. Indeed, most programs will offer a course or instruction about birds and exotic pets, but students may also want to look for avian vet tech schools where faculty members specialize in avian medicine or have avian practice certification through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Students of avian vet tech schools can also take advantage of any internship or externship experiences required as part of their program and make sure it is focused toward an avian vet tech experience.