This is Dave Oehler; Major Dude, Lead Cheese, and “Big Bird” at the Bird House. I believe his title is “Bird Curator”. But to me he is simply the “Major Dude”. When that came to mind, all I could think of was the Steely Dan song “Any Major Dude”. I’ve always liked that song and although the lyrics don’t particularly apply to this Major Dude, I will think of Dave any time I hear that song.
(If you’re not familiar with the song, here it is)
Dave has been on the Cincinnati Zoo scene for the most part since he was a Junior Zoologist in High School. I find people with long resumes and only one or two employers to be “non-nonsense” types that know what they want to do early on and stick to it. Dave is definitely a no-screwing around type of guy, but he is not without his charm. He says he’s not that good with people but I beg to differ. It has been said that he is one of the most organized and forward-thinking Staffers here at the Cincinnati Zoo. (Dave has, shall we say an “interesting” office. He as a lot of books and a ton of papers in there. And apparent evidence suggests he has a thing for Raisinettes.) I was fascinated to see these as examples of some of Dave’s “lighter reading”:
I asked him about some of the programs, goals and strategies he has in the works and what he feels he wants to accomplish in the future for the Bird House. Dave explained quite a bit, but it wasn’t until Steve Malowski handed me a 220-page manuscript that I understood exactly what Dave was doing in his office all that time. This manuscript, only one of about a million projects he has, is the Management Plan for 2007, featuring the goals, objectives, details, diet and strategies for every species, and area in the Bird Department. Rich in detail, this document weighs in at 585 grams, and will tell you anything you need to know about the birds at the Cincinnati Zoo. Incredibly detailed, this plan describes minute facts, such as the diet, range and global status of every bird, as well as their habitat description, lighting requirements, plantings, modifications and care of both the birds and the habitat. I was hellishly impressed. I knew he wasn’t in that office playing Pac-Man, but I had no idea he was up to this. In order to accomplish what Dave has to do, you must be detail oriented, a fastidious record-keeper, and able to push and promote what you believe in.
Steve told me Dave still makes it a point to walk to all of the exhibits every day. Dave clearly loves the birds here, and it seems to me that the more you advance in this field, the less contact you have with your birds. Dave seems to accept this, but I sensed he was resigned to this fact as opposed to being happy about it. I have to say there is an upside to this however; He doesn’t have to unpack crickets any more:
Patricia Sund is a Free-Lance Writer residing in Florida with her three African Greys. She has been published in About.com, Bird Talk Magazine, Birds USA, In Your Flock Magazine, Good Bird Magazine as well as numerous websites and newsletters. She is currently doing research for a book titled "Parrot Nation".