For the Love of Birds – She Changed the World

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For the Love of Birds – She Changed the World

PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. – (Editor’s Note: The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores joins the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and other state organizations to celebrate a centennial of North Carolina Women breaking barriers with “She Changed the World.” The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. American women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on August 18, 1920, after a 72-year fight by suffragists. Please keep an eye out for our series, as well as stories from across the state that recognize women who truly are reshaping the world we live in.)


“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” While this saying comes from Confucius, it could easily represent staff at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. One member in particular who has found a combination of passions in her employment is Nicole Warren, an educator and bird trainer.

 “I am super lucky, because I get to work not only with these amazing animal ambassadors … but I get to work with people every day and teach conservation,” said Warren, who added that people can help animals all around the world, especially those in their backyards.

 It is not uncommon to see Warren with a snake draped around her arms, or escorting a vulture named Willis down the hall.

 “I think my favorite thing about working here at the aquarium and working with animals is the excitement you see in children’s eyes when they get to see these animals up close for the first time, especially in our free flight shows,” said Warren, who has worked with animals since she was eight years old. “Children may see a pelican any day on the beach, but to be just two feet away from one and to learn about them up close brings incredible excitement on the kids’ faces.  Our hope is that the enthusiasm will translate into lifelong support for efforts to protect pelicans and other animals in the wild.”

 The aquarium hosts school children from around the state and also presents animals during outreach visits. Last year, the North Carolina Aquarium Society, the aquariums’ non-profit “friends” group, established a program called Aquarium Scholars to offer scholarships for North Carolina Title One schools to visit an aquarium or have aquarium staff visit the school.

 Through this program, Warren was able to visit her own elementary school, Westfield Elementary School in Pilot Mountain.

 “I had the opportunity to go back home to the school that I grew up in, and present programs and take one of our Eastern screech owls,” said Warren. “This was extremely fulfilling. I was able to have the opportunity to inspire passion and show that kids from the mountains can grow up to be biologists and work to save the ocean.”

 When it comes to beloved animals, Warren’s is not what many would consider to be the most cute or cuddly, although she might beg to differ.

 “My favorite animal to work with is a black vulture named Willis,” said Warren. “She was an imprint raised by humans from a very young age, and never really learned how to do the bird thing from her bird parents. She is amazing.”

 Warren, who had never worked with birds before the aquarium, explained that she never realized how sharp vultures really are.

 “Working with Willis has completely changed my perceptions of vultures. They are incredible animals. They are nature’s garbage men and super intelligent,” said Warren, who recently earned her master’s degree in biology from Miami University in Ohio. “She is so fun to work with.”

 Warren’s love for nature runs in the family. Her grandfather was a wildlife refuge manager on Bull Island, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in Awendaw, South Carolina. 

 “I got to spend my summers with him on the island tracking wolves and conducting sea turtle counts. He was introducing or trying to reintroduce red wolves to the island,” said Warren, who attributes these experiences to her own passion. “From a young age, getting to see these animals up close and getting to help the red wolf reintroduction program was really a memorable experience and something I took to heart.”

Warren explains that it is this personal connection with wildlife and nature that inspired her to do what she does now.

“I want to inspire that same passion in others,” she said. “I am not working as a wildlife refuge manager, but I am working with animal ambassadors, and people are getting to see them up close. Hopefully I am inspiring that same kind of passion that my grandfather inspired in me.”   



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