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Internships: Breana Downs ’24 spends the summer with native birds at the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance

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Student holds a hawk and smiles into the camera.

Image: Breana Downs ’24 is glove training one of Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance’s ambassadors, Kingston! Kingston is a Red-Tailed Hawk who was admitted as a patient just over a year ago after running into a second-story window on one of his very first flights. (All photos in this article are provided by Breana Downs.)

November 22, 2023

PLU can connect you to out-of-this-world professional experiences through internships! PLU even offers scholarships for internship-related expenses so you can get the internship experience without worrying about funding.

Student looks into the camera and weighs a bird on the scale.
Downs is weighing a severely emaciated juvenile Golden Eagle about two weeks after he was first rescued. He was put on a high protein liquid diet and is currently still recovering at the wildlife rehabilitation center.
Two people hold and feed a bird with a bottle with a long straw.
Downs and another RMWA Employee are gavage feeding a severely emaciated juvenile Golden Eagle that they had rescued a few days earlier. During gavage feeding, the tube is inserted into the stomach of the animal and they are fed a high protein liquid diet.
A student holds up a turkey as it tries to stand.
Downs is helping a wild turkey with spinal trauma learn how to stand again. “I would hold him up with his feet underneath him twice a day for about 10 minutes each time so that he could relearn where they were in space and how to regain balance and muscle."

This summer, Breana Downs ’24 had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience (literally) with some of the native-winged creatures during her time at Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance. Read about her once-in-a-lifetime experience below!

How did your internship experience come to be at Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance?

BD: The founder of Rocky Mountain Wildlife Alliance posted an ad for the internship on This link was then sent to me by my PLU mentor Ben Sonnenberg ‘14, a former PLU research assistant. (PLU mentors are PLU alumni who have already made significant contributions to their respective fields and work to assist students in making advancements towards their academic and career goals.) I applied, interviewed, and was offered the position!

How did this internship affect your future career goals?

BD: My goal is to get licensed for wildlife rehabilitation in Washington State and eventually open my own wildlife rehabilitation center in Grays Harbor County! I have learned a tremendous amount about wildlife rehabilitation, husbandry, medicine, and animal training during this internship, and I will take all of these experiences with me in this future endeavor!

What was one of the most memorable moments from your internship, and what did you learn from it?

BD: The most memorable moment of my internship was performing a rescue for a juvenile Golden Eagle who fell from his nest, puncturing his right thorax on the way down. After being admitted to our care, we discovered he also has suspected West Nile Virus and Avian Pox. He is recovering well and is still in the Alliance’s care!

Caring for this Golden Eagle showed me how big and powerful these birds are. I also learned how unreliable certain blood tests can be in wildlife veterinary medicine. His blood test for West Nile Virus initially came back negative!

If you were to offer advice to other students considering internships, what valuable insights would you share with them based on your experience?

BD: If you can make the sacrifice, I would recommend considering unpaid internships that give opportunities that other paid internships would not! For example, this internship was unpaid, but I gained hands-on medical experience that I would not have been exposed to with other paid wildlife rehabilitation internships that I considered for this summer. Specifically, how to feel for bone fractures, do wing wraps on different birds, and administer meds and fluids. This experience has set me ahead greatly in both the wildlife veterinary and rehabilitation paths!