Back to News

Nikki Harley: Corncrake Intern

18 Oct 2018



A blog by Nikki Harley:


Being Pensthorpe’s 2018 avicultural warden intern has been one of the most valuable experiences in my life to date. Although I had already worked as a bird keeper prior to starting work here, over the past 7 months I have been able to build on every single skill in this field, in addition to gaining many more.

As a warden intern at Pensthorpe, my role has included a level of responsibility that I have really enjoyed. My daily routine involves feeding all of the birds on my section for that day, as well as checking they’re all okay, and cleaning up after them! There’s nothing quite like being followed by hundreds of ducks & geese at 8am when you’re carrying buckets of feed!

Hawaiian Geese

 During my stay, we were at our busiest time of the year – corncrake season. This has by far been the highlight of my time here. My job role involved helping with the corncrake chick feeding, and as I lived on site, I was responsible for looking after them every single evening. Not that I minded – if I could do it all over again, I would! It’s hard to pick a favourite moment of corncrake season, so I’ve picked two. The first is a moment that happened many times over – every time I’d check on the hatcher and a new crake had hatched. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many minutes-old chicks you see. And it wasn’t just crake chicks that we hatched out – goslings, ducklings, ruff chicks – were all equally exciting to see in their respective hatchers.

This leads nicely to my other favourite moments of corncrake season – the releases. Opening the transport bag at the release site and seeing that corncrake running off into the long grass is one of the most rewarding experiences. It makes the 70+ hour weeks, the late nights, the non-stop days – it makes all of this worth it, to know that you’re helping to save a species.


When I wasn’t living & breathing corncrakes, I spent my time gaining valuable experience of caring for many different species of bird, building on my skills at catching, handling, medicating, feather cutting, sexing, ringing… all of the essential skills I will need for my future career as a keeper. I also built on my public speaking skills, which I really enjoyed. When you’re giving a talk on a topic you love, it doesn’t feel like work at all.

 Now that my time at Pensthorpe is coming to an end, I’m able to look back over the past 7 months and really see just how far I’ve progressed. For that I’d like to thank my fellow aviculturists – Chrissie, Kat, and Alex – as well as everybody else at Pensthorpe who has supported me throughout my time here.

Red Squirrel

Barnacle Geese

Eurasian Crane