When the recent nor’easter brought heavy snowfalls, Flavio Sutti, wildlife care manager at Mass Audubon, readied for the winter storm by shoveling pathways to animal cages and checking on fresh water and food supplies.
Sutti, 40, is charged with overseeing the health and safety of owls, hawks, ducks, amphibians, reptiles, opossums, rabbits, and other animals at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. Even though most of the animals are acclimated to the weather, he said, he needs to keep an eye on conditions.
“Being outside is also a nice component of my job,” said Sutti. “Being in the same environment as the animals also allows me to observe them in their habitat.”
How do you help animals cope with extreme temperatures, like the storm we recently had?
We’ll move some of them inside, like the Canada goose, mallard, and two domestic Pekin ducks. Normally they spend the night in protected shelter, but when it gets cold, they can start to have frost on their feathers. Providing the animals with regular feedings also allows them to produce more heat for energy, and we will use heat lamps for some of them. When it’s very hot, on the other hand, fishers or the foxes might get “mice-cicles,” frozen treats with rodents that help them cool down while they lick.
Acquiring new animals is part of your job. You recently added a few new ones.
All of them are native to Massachusetts, but injuries prevented them from surviving in the wild
You’re training the new opossum to be comfortable during programming encounters with people.
I train naturalists so they learn to safely handle the animals; at the same time, the well-being of the animals always comes first. This means that we never touch the animals, because this would stress them. Instead, they often respond to treats, similar to clicker training for dogs. This is standard when working with wild animals.
With everything at Drumlin Farm, do you have a favorite animal?
I would be hard-pressed to pick one — I like them all. I’m an ornithologist, so birds in general are my favorite. Being from Italy, I followed them in the Alps for work, and my research has always brought me back to birds. They’re cool in that every part of their body has adapted so that they can fly.