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Expert Profile: Falconer Genevieve Zaloum

In Arts, Features on May 2, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Zaloum and one of the falcons she brought with her to the bird day fair

unshine the snow white Barn Owl swoops majestically through the air before landing amidst the crowd. “She might be a bit nervous,” Falconer Geneviève Zaloum says, before fetching the bird from between the spectators. However, it’s hard to imagine such a majestic looking creature (and fearsome predator) could be easily intimidated. Sunshine is one of many birds of prey that were shown at Ottawa’s Bird Day Fair held May 31st in Andrew Haydon Park.

After the show, I got a chance to do a Q & A with Geneviève about her falconry career and the birds she trains and advocates for.

Dylan Copland (DC): What is your job at Falcon Environmental Services?

Geneviève Zaloum (GZ): Since I started in 2009, I’ve had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything; from taking care of the animals to training, to visiting schools and educating children. It’s a very dynamic position.

DC: What sorts of animals do you work with?

GZ: I only work with birds of prey. It’s constantly interesting though because I think each one has their own personality and style. They have their own quirks and each one does its own thing, so I’m always guessing at what they’re going to do next. You have to learn how to interact with each individual.

DC: Can you describe one of these unique animals personalities?

GZ: Figaro, the Harris Hawk, presented last Saturday, is 18 years old. Born in captivity, and having always been amongst humans, this is a bird who knows the business. No matter where we are, I can count on this bird to do the job! He is comfortable around people, and loves his perches. It is not any Harris Hawk that can accomplish that, however the years of experience and the many handlers this bird has encountered makes him an extremely valued asset to our bird team.

DC: What inspired you to get into this line of work?

GZ: Well, I knew I always wanted to work with animals. I have a B.Sc. In Zoology, but I think I have the ability to work well with not only animals, but also people because you have to be open and answer the public’s questions and to have the patience to listen to people. I like doing it all and the dynamic nature of the position is what makes it exciting.

DC: What is one of the most memorable experiences you have had while working with birds?

GZ: One of the most wonderful experiences so far in my career has been training our Great Horned Owl, Darwin. In order to have an owl that is comfortable in schools and show presentations, we made the decision to imprint. In the wild, babies imprint on their parents, and therefore associate themselves as that species. However, in our case, we wanted Darwin to associate himself as human, and therefore we raised him ourselves. I can honestly say that it was one of the coolest experiences watching this little owlet grow into an adult. We acquired him at three weeks old, and as any baby does, he mostly ate, slept and pooped! As he started to get older, he started to explore his surroundings more and more. Looking around, trying to access taller surfaces, flapping his wings to get those muscles working! The rate at which he grew was just unbelievable, doubling his weight in just a couple of weeks, growing in size, in plumage and in courage. It didn’t take long for him to be able to access heights, and soon travel a few meters at a time. By the age of two months, he was fully feathered and flighted. Being able to witness the entire process is a moment in my career that I will never forget.


DC: As an educator, what is one thing about the animals you work with you think everyone should know?

GZ: I think it is important that everyone know that these birds, although they look very friendly during a show, are still wild birds at heart. They maintain their wild instincts despite being born in captivity and this emphasizes that a bird of prey should never be considered a pet. They have no affection towards their trainer, but trust that we are not there to cause harm. This makes for a very different relationship than one may be used to when working with animals.

DC: How can an individual get involved in helping to protect these animals or conserve their environment?

GZ: There are many rehabilitation centres that encourage help from volunteers. This can be offered through help with installations (cleaning, preparing food) to helping with fundraising activities that better inform the public of risks and threats to different species. Otherwise, projects that promote protection to nature reserves, nesting success of certain species can also be supported.

DC: What do you like to do in your free time?

GZ: I like to figure skate and snowboard! Falconry is hunting which occurs mainly in the fall. When there’s no hunting I have time to participate in other activities.

DC: Where do you see yourself in the future?

GZ: Right here! I’ve made it!

Falcon Environmental Services, based out of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, features both both educational and business divisions. The company specializes in the removal of unwanted birds and animals from human development sites such as: airports, military installations and landfills using techniques like: live trap and release, falconry, trained dogs and pyrotechnic devices. They also provide teaching seminars and demonstrations on ecological preservation and birds of prey at schools and public events in Canada and the United States.

You can find them on the web at or at


Canadian writer, director Michael Stasko’s latest film set to feature world of ornithology

In Arts on September 30, 2014 at 4:19 pm

The natural environment has been a prominent theme in Canadian born writer and director Michael Stasko’s films. His previous movie, Iodine, chronicled the mental decline of a man searching for his lost father in the northern Canadian wilderness.

His latest movie, the revenge comedy The Birder, is no exception. The film follows middle-aged school teacher Ron Spencer (played by Tim Cavanagh) as he competes for the head of ornithology position at Point Pelee National Park. His rival is the younger, cooler Floyd Hawkins whose popularity and knowledge of modern cultural trends leads to him getting the promotion. Angry that a less experienced birder has leaped ahead of him, Spencer decides to takes matters into his own hands and win back the position he believes is rightfully his.

I sat down with Mike to discuss his latest film, his love for nature and the influence it has had on his film making.

Dylan: Hi Mike, thanks for agreeing to the interview.

Mike: No problem. I’m glad to be here!

Co-writer Michael Stasko on the set of The Birder

Tell me a bit about yourself. What’s your life like now?

Well, I teach film and communications studies at the University of Ottawa and Ryerson University, but I also write and direct films. I do government and industrial contracts for training videos as well. My goal is to be a full time teacher and also make a movie every few years. I want to teach a really good film program to students and get them inspired to go out and make Canadian films.

What originally got you into film making?

In high school, I was pushed into the sciences. I did a test in the 80s that told me I should be something like a dermatologist or an air traffic controller so I took it like: “Oh, a computer printout told me to be a dermatologist so I must do that!” Eventually, I ended up going into biochemistry, but early in University I became enamored with the TV show Twin Peaks which got me interested in film more. Eventually, it came down to one of those life decisions: Do I become a doctor or do I do the thing I really want to do which is film making? It was definitely a hard decision to tell my parents and make that move into film, but once I did I was happy.

The root of film making I’m attracted to is the art of storytelling. It’s about finding a narrative and finding an arch and doing things in a unique and different way. Storytelling is something that isn’t going to go away. It’s a rock; it’s been around since cave men and the invention of fire. Now we’re seeing it transition into new media like video games, but it’s essentially the same thing in regards to characters and plot.

What made you decide to focus on the world of ornithology for your latest film?

The very first kernel of a concept was having a teacher live in a school for a summer. But as we started to develop the character Ron Spencer more, a lot of his qualities and quirks reminded me of the world of birdwatching and birdwatchers.

Also, I grew up in the Windsor-Essex region and the Pelee area is a major birding hotspot so it kind of made sense to go with what you know and write about it. It was pretty early on that we decided to make the main character an ornithologist and show that world. It works well because it’s a scene, in film making at least, that hasn’t been tapped too much yet.

Are you a birder yourself?

In University, I did a lot of birding, One of the things that I really liked, and kind of attracted to me to hang out with the other birders, was the idea of just quickly jumping in a car and traveling east on the 401, heading out of Windsor and off to a small hamlet in the middle of Essex County to see a bird. A place so close to my home, yet I would have never visited otherwise. It gave me an excuse to
explore my own backyard. As I got into it more I realized I was a big time novice. I would call myself a birder and would go out maybe twice a month which is not even close to what a hardcore birder does. Some go out every day and they’ll drive thousands of miles to try and find a specific bird that has been spotted in a certain location.

What was your most memorable birding experience?

I saw a beautiful blue heron once. It was a notable sight because if you see them, they’re usually out on the water, but this one was up in a tree actually making its nest. I pointed it out and a bunch of people gathered around to come look. That was exciting!

How much research on ornithology went into making the film?

Ted (co-writer Theodore Bezaire) and I did a lot of research. We learned stuff like how to identify certain bird calls and even how to properly hold your binoculars. There’s probably some hard core birders who will watch our film and find some mistakes in it and that’s fine, it’s not meant to be a bird watching documentary, but rather a family revenge comedy set against characters from that universe. However, we had a couple ornithologists on set, to make sure things were going right. Sarah Rupert was the head ornithologist there. She does a lot of birding down in the Windsor region.

Your previous film Iodine and now The Birder, both feature the natural environment prominently in the script. Is the Canadian environment a big influence on your film making career?

Yeah, for sure. I was lucky enough to spend 13 summers of my youth, starting around age seven, as a sailing instructor or camp councilor. For four months of the year I was living in nature either in a cabin or by a lake. And I still go camping – real camping. Not the kind where you bring beer and stay with friends who are right next to you, but like, I’ll go to Algonquin park with a bit of food and a canoe and that’s it. So yes, I’ve always been very attracted to nature and that element.

I find that in film making, nature becomes this crucible in which you can explore so many things. For example, if you walk into a forest in 2014, it will look pretty much the same as it did 200 years ago, but our cities now are so different from the environment humans have usually lived in. There’s something interesting about taking a character, putting them in the forest and being able to relate to it in a primal brain sort of way. That’s something generations of humans can relate to. On the other hand, these past couple generations are the only ones that know the feeling of putting their hand out of a car window and feeling the wind pass by; it’s a completely new sensation. Today, we’re addicted to Iphones and blackberries which seems normal to us, but for the last 5000 years, we’ve all been living much closer to nature. That kind of more natural storytelling has been going on for a long time and is something I like to explore.

As a teacher, do you find it hard to inspire students to become film makers in Canada’s film industry?

It’s very difficult. Canada doesn’t really have – I think we have a lot of talent – but the resources haven’t been pooled together yet properly. Telefilm Canada is trying to produce films good enough to compete with the American market, but we still only have about 1.5 % of total Canadian box office revenues coming from Canadian films.

What’s happened up to this point – and I get in trouble for saying this – is that they’ve been trying to make Canadian films about playing hockey or how funny beavers are and presenting that as Canadian content when, in reality, Canadian content should really look a lot like American content. I don’t think we should be ashamed of displaying stuff that’s modern to show off Canadian society. Let’s tell stories about 2014 and our melting pot society. To try and make a culture about Tim Horton’s and maple syrup is weak material. What about a story about a teenager who is unsure about what to do in his life, and it happens to take place in Toronto or Montreal? That’s Canadian! He doesn’t have to also be trying out for a hockey team.

Now that your work on The Birder is coming to a close, what’s your next project?

I’m working on a comedy called Boys Versus Girls. It’s about a camp in the late 80s early 90s where, for economic reasons, it turns co-ed for the first time. It’s kind of based on a true story because in that time period camps were closing left and right and in order to make them viable, some decided to integrate male and female campers. The first few summers when they were trying this out were actually very hostile where boys and girls sort of hated each other because they thought they were trying to take over each other’s territory. So I’m on my third draft of that right now. I’m also doing some sci-fi stuff that I can’t talk about. I’d rather just let it happen!

The Birder has already had theatrical showings across Ontario, but you can catch it when it opens in Orillia, Ontario July 25 at Galaxy Cinemas Orillia or in Ottawa July 31 at The Mayfair Theatre. The film is also set to be released for wide distribution in late August. For more information please visit:


Tipping towards a recommendation

In Arts on March 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

The Tipping Point book review

Through his books, (Blink, What the Dog Saw) and columns in the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell is part of a growing number of academics and researchers releasing popular, critically acclaimed books that are turning our traditional ideas of everything from economics to social psychology on their heads.

Gladwell’s novel The Tipping Point can best be summed up as an idea: What if style changes, crime trends, the phenomena of word of mouth and say, rises in teenage smoking are best understood when we view them as epidemics, much like a virus.

thetippingpointThe idea is abstract, and even through his examples, hard to fully comprehend. Gladwell invites us to imagine that very small changes in attitude or behaviour in a small group of individuals can have a profound effect on the behaviour of others.

The Tipping Point sheds light on interesting experiments in social psychology and answers questions like how much does our environment really affect behaviour? It also calls to attention many cases of our failure to account for changes in socio-economic behaviour. What really did account for a Baltimore syphilis epidemic and why did Hush Puppies shoes sky-rocket in popularity after showing a flat-line in sales for so long?

Much like the Freakonomics series, it’s perhaps best to approach Gladwell’s work as an introduction to macro-economics. Books like these are blurring the traditional lines between academia and traditional observation – the textbook and the novel. The Tipping Point features interesting character studies, like one of a salesman that would traditionally be left to novelists to portray but studies their behaviour in such an acute and precise way you feel as if you are observing them as a scientist or researcher would.

At times, you may find some of Gladwell’s categorizations overly pedantic. Like when Gladwell profiles and classes some people as connectors, who are great at bringing people together, or mavens, who he calls brokers of information. I think, in all fairness, we all act as connectors, mavens and even salesmen at points in our lives and to classify individuals as one or another seems short-sighted.

In any case, The Tipping Point is certainly an interesting read and it along with the Freakonomics series may be the most fascinating new ideas I’ve read about in years.

The Tipping Point is an easily recommendable book to any open-minded individual looking for a better understanding into why people act the way they do.