“Certified Professional Bird Trainer – Knowledge Assessed. Darn, such a long title must mean I’m really good!”
by, Erin Estell Katzner, CPBT-KA, Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 
― William Faulkner
I love a good challenge. Whether it’s on the trail, running farther than I did yesterday, or while doing an educational program for my nonprofit, trying to excite my audience more than ever before, or at my job, working to achieve my best results. I love testing my limits and adding to my mental list of personal successes. So it was a no-brainer for me to take the exam to become a Certified Professional Bird Trainer – Knowledge Assessed.
But even with my “early adopter” attitude, I won’t lie—I was pretty nervous about it. I had a myriad of worries to consider. It seems like a lot of money. What if I don’t pass? That would be embarrassing. How will I make time to study? School was a long time ago. Do I even remember how to study? I’ve been training birds for a really long time. Do I even really need a certification to say that I know how to do this?
When I sat down and really thought about it, when I really did a risk/rewards assessment of the potential positive and negative outcomes, I realized that taking the exam would benefit me personally and professionally. In this article, I hope to explain the benefits of becoming certified, the process and preparation that I went through, and my experience taking the examination.  It is my goal to answer questions you may have and convince you to become a CPBT-KA too!
The Benefits of Certification
There are many different career paths that offer certifications to professionals in other fields. I did some sleuthing to identify why certifications are offered and why people choose to become certified. Some of the answers I found are obvious, others less so but no less important. Below are what I found to be the most compelling reasons to become a Certified Professional Bird Trainer. Becoming certified will:
  • Help you earn credibility as a bird trainer and prove that your knowledge is up to date.
  • Open up opportunities for advancement. Certifications are an unbiased barometer of your knowledge and can be useful in marketing yourself for new career opportunities.
  • Prove your willingness to invest in your own development. The CPBT-KA certification is relatively inexpensive compared to other professional development opportunities (compare it to returning to school to pursue a Master’s degree), and it provides you with resume-building qualifications not unlike earning another degree. 
  • Demonstrate your commitment to training. Certifications are a great way to differentiate yourself and show initiative.
  • Build confidence in your knowledge of the bird training profession and gain the personal satisfaction that you’ve mastered important concepts and material.
The Testing Process and Preparation
The process of registering for the certification assessment was extremely easy. I went to IATCB.com, filled out the application, wrote my check, and sent it in. There is now an online registration that makes the process even simpler by cutting out the long walk to the mailbox! Once the testing corporation received my application, I was notified by email and later received instructions on choosing a testing location and date. I picked a Monday morning – first testing slot available – and the testing location closest to me. I live in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia, and the closest testing center to me was only about a 30 minute drive. To put that in perspective, I would have to drive 45 minutes to reach the nearest Starbucks. No matter where you live, there is likely a testing location closer than you would expect!
Preparation for the test was also not as difficult as I had anticipated. The IATCB has taken the guess-work out of studying by providing a list of study materials and suggested study topics on the website and in the online handbook. If you know the suggested study topics, you will pass the test. All of the suggested study topics were covered in the reading materials listed. It’s really that simple.
It did take time to go through all of the reading materials. I read every book, paper, and position statement cover-to-cover. The most valuable materials for me were the IAATE position statements, Lori Arent’s “Raptors in Captivity,” and Paul Chance’s “Learning and Behavior.” If you’re strapped for cash, these are the key books to buy. They’re a great investment as you will refer back to them for years to come. I would recommend reading all of the materials if you can, since the point of this exercise should be for you to get as much out of it as you can. Strive to be your best!
My studying strategy was the same I used while working on my Masters of Public Policy Management. I skimmed the first line of every paragraph to see if there were any concepts that were new to me or that I needed to have refreshed. If there were, I would read the entire paragraph. If I felt confident in my understanding of the material from the first line, I would skip to the next paragraph. I also took notes on definitions I needed to study and spent time reading them back to anyone who would listen – friends, family, colleagues, my dogs, the trees in my yard…literally anyone. I also made studying fun by using it as an excuse to explore local coffee shops, libraries, parks, etc. I frequented Panera regularly so that I could positively reinforce my studious behavior with chocolate filled croissants. Mmmm…motivation…
The Examination Experience

So it was finally exam day, and I pulled into the parking lot of my examination center – the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center. The coincidence of taking a bird training exam at an Aerospace Education Center named after a Byrd was not lost on me or the center’s exam proctor. I had my Driver’s License and the testing card that had been sent to me by the testing corporation, and the proctor provided me with scratch paper, a pencil and a calculator in case I needed them. She showed me the way the test would run on the computer and informed me that I would have 3 hours to complete the 200 question test. I set to work.

Looking back, I think I would have been able to answer at least half of the questions just based on my personal experience. For the other half, I’m glad I spent time studying. I finished with plenty of time to go back through and check all of my answers. I am glad that I did so, because I’d made a few errors. When I finished, the proctor told me that I would receive my results by mail in 4-6 weeks. I left the training center with an hour of test time remaining. 

As soon as I returned home, I reviewed some of the answers of which I was unsure and did a mental tally of how many I knew I got correct. I was fairly positive I passed, but was still extremely relieved the day I looked in my mailbox and found the notification saying I had passed the assessment and would be able to include the CPBT-KA initials after my name! Phew! 

Since earning my Professional Bird Trainer Certification credentials, I have been able to use my new title to demonstrate my expertise - in grant applications from our nonprofit and in interviews with local media about our birds and events. Because of my increased confidence in my knowledge, I am also pursuing a teaching opportunity at West Virginia University to train Wildlife Students in Captive Animal Management. 

Needless to say, the experience of pursuing my certification was very positive and has already been quite beneficial to my career. As one of the first CPBT-KA, I hope that there will be many more of us in the near future! I’d encourage you to take the test and please feel free to contact me at erin@accawv.org if you have any other questions about my experience.