What may be the oldest documented bird of its kind, a 24-year-old King Eider was identified by International Bird Rescue in 2019—23 years after it was oiled in the 1996 M/V Citrus Oil Spill near Alaska’s Pribilof Islands. The organization celebrated this discovery as a testament to its strong belief “that properly treated oiled birds can and will live long lives beyond capture and cleaning.”
While rescuing birds from oil spills in the Bering Sea is not a typical “day in the life” of an avian veterinary technician, stories such as these may just be what inspires some people to pursue training in this field. Of course, not all avian vet techs work with birds in wildlife rescue centers or have a newsworthy rescue story to tell. However, caring for beautiful and exotic birds like cockatiels and parrots has its own unique rewards.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported that between 2017 and 2018, birds made up 2.8 percent of pet-owning households in the United States. That equates to about 3.5 million households owning an average of two birds. Though most people probably think of dogs and cats when imagining the waiting room of a veterinary office, both wild and domesticated birds need medical care from time to time. Perhaps most commonly, birds suffer wing injuries that require the attention of a veterinarian with training in avian care.
In general, avian vet techs have a number of responsibilities when it comes to caring for birds. These duties may include:
- Handling and restraint of birds
- Processing laboratory samples
- Assistance with radiographs
- Venipuncture and catheter placement
- Prepping avian patients undergoing anesthesia and monitoring of vitals during surgical procedures
- Communication with equipment suppliers, pet owners, and other veterinary staff (inhouse and referrals)
- Scheduling patients and following up regarding general animal care and post-op instructions
- Processing payments and updating medical records
- Maintenance and care of equipment
- Checking in and discharging patients
- General cleaning, stocking, and management of hospital inventory
The scope of practice of avian veterinary technicians can vary significantly by state. In addition to the above duties, in some areas, an avian vet technician might even assess the injury of a hurt bird and investigate whether it’s a wound or something different such as a broken blood feather (i.e., 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.
As in the case of other pet owners, bird owners can become close to their feathered friends, leading them to invest considerably in their care. Some birds, like the African Grey Parrot, are quite intelligent. This video shows how one African Grey, aptly named Einstein, earned its name.
Some pet owners pay substantially to obtain their birds and will take the steps—no matter the cost—to assure they are cared for. African Grey juveniles can cost from $800 to $1,200, and their owners, among other bird-lovers, are likely reassured knowing that their avian veterinarians and avian vet techs have received the exotic bird training necessary to care for them.
Avian Veterinary Technician Career Outlook
Nationwide, job opportunities for all types of vet techs are growing. In fact, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), job growth for all veterinary technicians is expected to continue at 19 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average. As a result, approximately 21,100 new vet tech jobs are expected to be created nationally during this time period.
Unfortunately, the BLS does not aggregate job growth for specific vet tech fields, like avian veterinary care, 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.
- More employees trained to take on the responsibilities that vets no longer have time to do
Indeed, veterinary technicians specializing in exotic bird care may find interesting and meaningful employment in this specialized industry. Graduates of avian vet tech schools, or those currently in an avian vet tech program, may want to keep tabs on the job board maintained by the Association of Avian Veterinarians to stay abreast of job prospects and trends. Membership is required, but this includes a quarterly subscription to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and access to focus courses and resources that allow members to further specialize in the care of birds.
Zoos may also 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.
Avian Vet Tech Salary Data
The website SimplyHired (2020) indicates that the average pay for vet technicians was $32,000. The BLS (2019) reported the median annual wage for vet techs nationwide as $34,420. The data revealed that vet techs in the highest 10 percent of the occupation working nationwide earned $50,010 or more, while those in the lowest 10 percent earned $23,490 or less.
The BLS does acknowledge that variations in salary exist; years of experience and area of residence could be among the contributing factors. According to the BLS, the states with the highest average vet tech salaries include Nevada ($46,370), Connecticut ($43,340), New York ($43,340), California ($41,920), and Massachusetts ($40,990).
Avian Vet Tech Job Requirements
In addition to a vet tech degree, many employers also require vet tech candidates to be credentialed (registered, licensed, certified)—and this requirement extends to avian veterinary technicians as well.
To earn this credential, graduates of vet tech programs, including those of avian vet tech school, will need to take the computer-based Veterinarian Technician National Examination (VTNE) available through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. The test is computer-based and assesses entry-level vet tech knowledge and skills. It is administered three times per year at PSI testing locations in the U.S. and Canada, and scores are sent directly to candidates’ state licensing agencies.
Applicants who pass the exam will then need to complete any additional steps required by their state of residence to be eligible for credentialing; it is important to understand credentialing requirements as they may vary significantly from state to state. In order to renew a license, avian vet techs may need to complete continuing education hours.
The BLS lists a number of qualities that are necessary to work as a vet tech. Among the qualities are high manual dexterity, which is particularly 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 is a desirable attribute in this specialization as well.
Avian Vet Tech Education & Experience
Most avian vet techs complete a two-year associate of science degree to qualify for work in the field as that is the minimum requirement for employment. In addition to two-year degrees, there are some bachelor’s degree programs for aspiring vet techs.
The American Veterinary Medical Association maintains a list of accredited vet tech programs available in the U.S.—both on-campus and online—and students interested in the care of birds should look for programs designed specifically for avian veterinary care. If such a program is unavailable, aspiring avian vet techs will want to be sure that focused coursework in the care of exotic-birds is included in the curriculum of their vet tech course of study.
Hillsborough Community College in Florida, for example, offers a course in avian and exotic pet medicine as part of its associate of science vet tech degree 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 certification in avian practice through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.
Education requirements of avian vet tech programs include completion of coursework and a hands-on clinical experience in the form of a preceptorship, practicum, or externship. Students planning to work as avian vet techs should be sure that their clinical experience is focused on the care of birds in a setting that matches their future employment goals.