Tara Bone, contributing writer
For Laura Vanderbeek, every day is an opportunity to live life to the fullest and put her talents to work for others—the human and feathered kind. Laura is a wife, mother, entrepreneur, photographer, master scuba diver, cancer survivor, digital scrapbooking pioneer, fitness enthusiast and avid outdoorswoman, but besides her family, she says her “main calling in life” is a tropical bird and parrot trainer.
Laura has volunteered for more than three years as a bird trainer at Zootah at Willow Park Zoo in Logan. When she started, there were 12 birds at the zoo, and today there are more than 20. Laura spends several hours each week training the birds to do a variety of skills that range from going in and out of cages to playing basketball. She said this training benefits everyone at the zoo—not just the birds.
“There’s no need to stress the birds,” she said. “The birds are healthier and happier.”
Laura’s love for birds started when she was a child. Her father served in the Army as a helicopter pilot, so she lived in a variety of places. It was while living in Panama that she discovered the wonder of birds.
“In Panama, we had tropical parrots flying wild,” she said. “Sometimes they would come and land near you, and you were in awe.”
It was only a matter of time before Laura’s wonder grew into something more. In 2014, Laura became one of only three people in the United States to receive their master bird trainer certification through BirdTricks.com.
Laura and her husband, Tyler, have lived in Hyrum for 18 years. They, along with their children Haeley and Coleton, enjoy typical family activities, but their family also includes two feathered family members named Kiwi and Mambo. Kiwi and Mambo are Green Cheek Conures who have been taught a variety of tricks by Laura and the entire family.
Whether training birds at home or the zoo, Laura is passionate about her work.
“Working with birds is therapeutic and I love spending time at the zoo,” she said. “There are days when I just don’t want to go, and then I train the birds, and when I leave I’m so happy. Anytime you serve, you’re in a good mood, but there’s something about working with animals that just adds to it.”
This year, Laura is eager to merge two of her favorite things–the zoo and Christmas lights. She is volunteering her time to coordinate the second-annual Zoo Lights event that will be held Nov. 6 through Dec. 30 on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at Willow Park. The event raises money for the upkeep of the animals at the zoo, and Laura adds that it is a unique event.
“It is the only public outdoor holiday display in Cache Valley,” she said.
Laura is also raising funds for Zoo Lights. Donations to purchase Christmas lights, or donations of LED lights are appreciated. More information about donating to Zoo Lights is available by emailing Laura at ZootahZooLights@gmail.com.
Zoo Lights isn’t the only upcoming event at the zoo. Boo at the Zoo, a family friendly carnival, is Oct. 27 and 28 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Reindeer Trek is coming up Nov. 24 – Dec. 2. Every week there is story time at the zoo, and birthday parties or family gatherings can be scheduled. Visit the zoo’s Facebook page at Zootah at Willow Park for the most current information.