Raptor Love

Ever since I can remember, I have had a love for all types of birds. Every house I’ve lived in has been in a more rural area with various breeds of birds practically at my fingertips. Growing up, we lived near a close family friend who makes wood carvings of birds and I was always fascinated by them. With all of these factors around me, who could blame me when “duck” was my first word? Overall, I have my dad to thank for this passion he passed down to me. Even before I could understand what he was saying to me, my dad would point out all the birds to me and whistle different bird calls. To this day, we still sit down on the back porch identifying birds both visibly and audibly. He has always taught me all he can about birds and I can thank him for my songbird identification abilities.

As I got older, I got more dedicated to learning about and watching birds. At ten years old, I built a chair out of the snow in my back yard, bundled up, sprinkled bird seed around me and sat completely still in that chair for hours waiting for birds to come up to me. Now in our newest house, a Red-Tailed Hawk family nests in our backyard every year; and every year I will sit on the back porch with a telescope watching the chick grow. It’s fantastic being able to watch something like that without interfering with the birds.

When I found out I got a position as an extern at the Wildlife Center, I had no idea that it would also be raptor season but I am very happy that it was. I have always thought raptors were mesmerizing birds -- so beautiful yet incredibly powerful. Learning about them was what I was most excited about, and that wish came true over my nine weeks here. I am personally interested in animal psychology and behavior, so one of my favorite things to experience was all of the different personalities the raptors have. For example, the tiny little screech-owls can be the feistiest or the most relaxed while some of the bigger raptors like Red-Tailed Hawks and Red-Shouldered Hawks can be incredibly stubborn.

Of all of the raptors at the Center, the Eastern Screech-Owls have been my favorite. They can have quite the attitudes and I love seeing their many expressions. Some seem to be so zoned out and relaxed while others think they can bite your fingers off when you catch them. Overall I love Eastern Screech-Owls as a species because they are made to adapt and survive. They aren’t very fussy with where they nest or what they eat, so human presence doesn’t bother them much and can even help them survive more than rural-living owls due to more abundant prey around human development. One of my favorite moments was when I was using a handheld bird call machine as enrichment for the education animals. I played the Eastern Screech-Owl call for Pignoli and she started mimicking the sound exactly for about five minutes. It was incredible to hear and so exciting!

Besides screech-owls, my favorite personalities to watch develop were the four Barn Owlets. They came here as very young owlets due to nest destruction and were unsuccessfully re-nested, so they’re staying at the Center until they are old enough to be released. Through my time here, I have seen them as feisty babies screeching and hissing at everyone, and I have seen them grow into beautiful juvenile Barn Owls with enormous wing spans and more quiet attitudes. Although they were hard to deal with as youngsters, being able to watch their progression has been worth all the hard work.

I have learned so much about raptors and animal care in general during my time at the Wildlife Center and was incredibly lucky to be here during raptor season. This was an amazing experience to have and I am so thankful to everyone that has been involved in my life here.

WCV Class of 2013

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