Working With The Raptors

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Hi, my name is Redwood and I am a student naturalist here at Shady Creek! I first heard about the student naturalist program during my senior year of high school. Interested in taking a year off before college to try something new and out of my comfort zone, I decided to visit Shady Creek to see what it was all about. I immediately fell in love with the program as soon as I stepped on to the property. One part in particular that clearly stood out in my mind was visiting the raptor center. At the time, Shady Creek’s raptor center was home to Shasta, a Bald Eagle, and Roja, a Red-tailed Hawk. I remember feeling very impressed with and interested in the birds, but slightly uneasy because as a student naturalist I would have to feed the birds a variety of dead animals including chicks, quail and mice. Since that visit, I have loved working with the raptors on a daily basis, and have proudly overcome my initial worries about feeding the birds. Raptor mealtime has even turned into one of my favorite parts of interacting with the raptors. I have not only learned how to gut quail, but also how to properly feed the birds and log the food each one receives.  I have gained a whole new insight and interest in the anatomy of birds and importance of their diet and how it can affect their mood and overall heath.

Bird Pic 1

Last May, Shady Creek took in three new unreleaseable birds of prey including Piper, a Western Screech Owl, Pancha, a Red-shouldered Hawk and Sly, a Red-tailed Hawk. All five birds have unique personalities and behaviors that require varied approaches and techniques when being handled. All of Shady Creek’s birds are significantly injured in one way or another. This greatly minimizes their chances of surviving on their own in the wild. With the guidance of our director Shannon, raptor consultant and local falconer Marya, and other naturalists, I have learned an immense amount of fascinating information regarding the correct procedure and equipment to use when handling and working with the birds, as well as some awesome and unusual facts about them. One favorite is that the scientific name for the two feather tufts on top of owl’s heads are plumicorns (“plume” like a feather and “icorn”, coming from unicorn and resembling a horn).

One bird I’ve had an exceptional, yet occasionally difficult experience with is Sly. Sly is a male Red-tailed Hawk between one and two years old. He is partially blind in his left eye, but still fully capable of flying. However, what makes him most challenging to work with is that he is “imprinted”.  He was taken into captivity at a very young age, before he could fully develop an understanding of who he is and how to hunt and survive on his own. This resulted in confusion over whether he is a bird or a human. He has become protective over his mew (another name for the rooms the birds live in) and unpredictably aggressive because of this. However, he is an extremely valuable asset to our birds class and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with him. Being our only bird who is fully flighted and still has some vision, the naturalists have been training him to fly between us using special, thick raptor handling gloves. We have even been able to fly Sly during class in front of students, providing a whole new and up close perspective on the amazing adaptations of raptors. I have loved participating in training Sly, teaching him to respond to our commands, helping him exercise and spending time outside as well as trying to get him to become more comfortable around people. Handling Sly is definitely a challenge, nonetheless, I have loved interacting with him and look forward to the next challenge to come my way.

Bird Pic 2

A year ago, when I first heard about Shady Creek, I had no idea I would have the opportunity to feed and hold raptors. Every minute I get to spend time in the raptor center is fantastic. Working with and learning about the birds has been one of my greatest life experiences.

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