It’s time to look back on 2013! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2013 from the staff, students, and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.
This year was my first full year volunteering at the Wildlife Center as part of the animal care team. Everyone told me, “Wait until you experience the spring baby season” -- and I sure did! Every Monday and Thursday morning I would arrive for my volunteer session and Leighann at the front desk would say, “Guess what baby birds arrived? Or “Guess how many bunnies came in … or fawns … or squirrels …” Oh my, it was a steady stream! And of course, as everyone knows, there are the bear cubs too. I couldn’t wait to come in to see all these beautiful little ones that had come into our care.
Often, while others were busy with the constant feeding of the babies, I was assigned the duty of pick-up and exercise of the raptors in our care. This is my favorite assignment, because it allows me to go into the flight pens with the birds. The “pick-up” part of the job is to locate any leftover mouse or chick parts that were not consumed the evening before, weigh the parts, calculate how many grams were eaten, and write that figure on the record sheets. Next, the “exercise” part involves getting the hawk, owl, falcon, eagle, or kestrel to fly back and forth within the flight pen for the prescribed number of passes to build their endurance and wing strength in preparation for release. I record their progress on the same sheets. Some birds fly quickly back and forth, while others may prove to be more reluctant. Learning how to catch, hold, and toss the birds has been an exciting skill to master.
One day, I experienced a most magical moment while exercising four juvenile Barn Owls. These Barn Owls had come to the Wildlife Center when their nest had been destroyed and the parents were not to be found. The chicks had arrived with fluffy white down feathers covering their bodies, but their flight feathers grew in very quickly. One day, before pick-up, Amber gave me the assignment to observe how they were flying all together in the same pen in anticipation of separating them into individual pens for exercising.
When I went into the flight pen, all four were perched on the swinging perch at the back. I went about my job of looking for mouse parts and I sensed at least one owl had flown over my head to the door end of the flight pen. I looked up and all four owls had silently flown to the opposite end of the pen; two perched on the swinging perch, and two were on top of the small platform protecting the Critter Cam. Wow, they are magnificent! Beautiful golden wings about five feet across and white heart-shaped faces with gold eyes looking at me.
Okay, they can all fly … that’s good. Now I needed to go back to the front end of the flight pen, where they were perched, to go out the door. I slowly walked back and all four took off at once rather chaotically. Two clipped wings with each other and then sped to the back of the flight pen, gliding to land on the perch. One flew right past me and landed on top of the owl box. The fourth came right at me. Oh no, could I duck in time? But then the owl slowed, continued to silently flap its wings, while hovering two feet in front of me, right at eye level. It was magical! The owl “hung” there for a moment, then dipped a wing and turned 180 degrees to fly back to the front end of the pen. This young, newly fledged owl had performed a flight maneuver I had never seen in a wild raptor. I still had to get out the door, so I walked toward the owl again and this time it flew past me to join the others.
I could hardly wait for daily rounds to report to Amber what I had seen and to let her know that all four barn owls were ready for exercising. Amber was happy to hear how well they were flying and she let me know that the hovering action I had witnessed was rarely seen in rehabilitation. It is a vision that I will never forget!
Volunteering at the Wildlife Center has enriched my life in so many ways and I thank the staff and students for teaching me so much. I can hardly wait for the 2014 season!
Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!