Raptors

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The Audubon is a nature center in Sharon, Connecticut, named after the famed naturalist and painter John James Audubon. It is one of five in the State, with a particular focus and devotion to non-releasable animals, (a generally nice way of say injured). These beautiful creatures give the public the rare pleasure of seeing them up close, while learning about them and how to better care for their habitats.

JJ and I leapt at the opportunity to see a few of their raptors, really really close. The animals in their care have been rescued for a variety of reasons, and sadly, will never be  released back into their natural habitat.

The red-tailed hawk above, is called Mandy. Red-tailed hawks are common throughout the world, and can be found in every state here in the US. We often see a pair in our neighborhood, swooping gracefully over the treetops, searching for small rodents, bunny rabbits, and reptiles. They have a distinctive, attention-garnering, shriek. Once in a while I see one perched on a chair near our bird feeder, in a near comical way. I guess when the rodents are scarce, hawks will fill the gap with a song bird or two.

Mandy somehow lost an eye, and was brought to the Audubon hurt and hungry. Since hawks rely on their powerful eyesight for survival, Mandy could no longer fend for herself, and was adopted by the Sharon Nature Center.

She is a large bird but weighs a mere three pounds, due to her light weight feathers and fine hollow bones. She is a wild beauty. Red-tailed hawks are a popular choice among falconers for their ease of training.

DSC_0086This raptor is an American Kestrel named Bob. His favorite foods are grasshoppers and dragonflies. The Audubon has raised him since he arrived on their doorstep as a chick. He’d been found on the ground and thought to be abandoned, but once he was picked up, he could never return and be accepted by his own. We learned that Bob thinks he’s a human being now, literally, and wants nothing to do with birds of his kind. He relies on his fellow humans to care for him, as he never learned to hunt and fend for himself. They advised us, if you should find a chick in the wild, don’t touch it, but alert the local Audubon, and let them decide what’s best.

“Kestrels are ultraviolet sensitive which allows them to visually locate the trails of voles. These small rodents lay scent trails of urine and faeces that reflect UV light, making them visible to the kestrels, particularly in the spring before the scent marks are covered by vegetation.” (Wikipedia)

DSC_0097This is a Great-horned Owl named Baxter. He was hit by a car, which as it turns out is a sadly common occurrence. They’ll swoop down on rodents in the road and miss the oncoming terror. Baxter lost his wing as a result, as well as a slight beak readjustment.. These owls have amazing hearing, allowing them to locate prey more easily. Their flight is silent due to the ruffled edges of their wings, which helps them be especially stealthy hunters. If we think the little tufts of feathers poking out from the top of his head are his ears, we’d be wrong, Those are his ‘horns’.

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This adorable little owl is called Hannah. She is a Saw-whet, weighing in at a dainty 1/4 pound. She too was injured in a car accident. Saw-whets have asymmetrical ears giving them acute hearing to hunt on the darkest nights. The offset of their ears allows them to triangulate their prey in complete darkness. This unusual skill helps them keep our vole/mole/mouse population in check. On a cold winter’s night, if you hear a repetitive whistle like a ‘toot toot toot’, it’s probably a saw-whet owl calling for a mate.

Several months ago my book group read Helen Macdonald’s, H is For Hawk. MacDonald, an experienced falconer, adopted young Mabel, a goshawk, after the death of her father. A goshawk, unlike a red-tailed hawk, is notoriously difficult to tame. MacDonald tells the amazing story of their time together. I recommend it.

The work the Sharon Audubon does is impressive and compassionate, giving our wildlife a second chance after run-ins with a sometimes careless or uninformed public. In our fast-paced world, the creatures of the forest are trying to survive, but find themselves surrounded by more cars and less space.

 

They need all the help we can give them.

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