‘Owl’ take three!

The invitation caught my attention as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed. Pay a few dollars, hold an owl. Make that three owls. Ooooooh. Who could resist?

We met the organizers and other participants at the American Wildlife Refuge headquarters Saturday afternoon. The organization is located in a small, out-of-the-way office in south Raleigh, but they do big things. Their volunteer staff has rescued over 600 raptors in and around the area.

Most are successfully rehabilitated, but not all the birds can be released back into the wild. Some of those become ambassadors for the cause.

After our training and education session on the great horned owl, Rasputin, Forest, the barred owl, and Speedy, the tiny Eastern screech owl, we were invited to don a glove (on our non-dominant hand) and take turns meeting each owl.

Rasputin looks a little scary, but he was the bird I met first. His eyes are large and clear, and, yes, his claws are big! He was a little wary, but he has not been an educator bird for long. He was fairly comfortable with his trainer, though.

At about four pounds, Rasputin is a heavy bird. Four pounds is not a lot, unless you balance that weight on your hand and wrist for a few minutes!

Insructor and Rasputin
It takes a lot of patience and care to set these raptors at ease. Here is Rasputin, with instructor, Steve.

Barred owls, in contrast, are not hard to hold. But, they have quite a grip! Each owl requires its own specialized glove, depending on what kind of protection the owl-handler needs.

Forest, whose dark eyes were at half-mast for most of the presentation, looked so soft. But petting was off-limits. So I respected the rules.

forest full-on
This dark-eyed barred owl is a creature of the night. But he was sweet about having his nap interrupted.

A tiny screech owl (see top photo) caught our attention before we met the other birds. He was perched on a pedestal when we walked in. He stood so still, we weren’t sure he was real. Then he moved. The eyelashes on owls are quite incredible! Like many birds, they also have an extra eyelid to protect them while hunting.

The raptor volunteers said if this fundraiser went over well, they would schedule others. More, please!

To keep up with the activities of this dedicated group, log onto their website, their Facebook page, or join their Meetup Group.

Missouri must-see: World Bird Sanctuary

If Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Mo., had been open, there’s a chance we may not have even thought of going to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park when I visited my husband in St. Louis last week.

My time there was limited, and my first stop (of course) was the Saint Louis Zoo, which I explored Wednesday while Bill was at work.

We headed out to the caverns on Friday. I was excited, because the last (and the first) time I saw anything like that was on the way to Washington, D.C., with the rest of my sixth-grade class.

Upon finding out Meramec was undergoing repairs of some sort, we pulled out our guide which listed 25 Free Things to Do in St. Louis. When I noticed the World Bird Sanctuary, I Googled it and found it was on our way back.

We stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, but not before noticing all the wild birds taking advantage of the nearby bird feeders, and a cardinal, singing his heart out (probably taunting all the raptors who couldn’t get to him). I managed a half-way decent picture.

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This little guy serenaded us as we walked around.

Inside the Visitor’s Center were a number of cages containing various owls. I fell in love with Lief, a little Northern saw-whet owl, who hid behind the greenery hanging at the top of his cage. His big, round, orange eyes seemingly asked for privacy, so I did not take his picture that day.

Next was a bigger owl; I didn’t take his picture, either, but I was delighted when he engaged me in conversation. After heading outside, we discovered a number of raptors in a very large, open-air cage. They were all tethered, and as it was chilly, they were not too active at first. When the sun warmed the air, though, they all seemed to wake up and become more interested in their visitors.

Several caught my eye, as well. There was Ivory, a quiet but stunning white hawk. We discovered Chrys, a dark-feathered long-crested eagle, who moved around a lot, but I did manage one decent shot.

white hawk
Ivory, an eye-catching white hawk, has lived at the sanctuary since 1992.
long-crested eagle
Chrys, a long-crested eagle, was harder to photograph because of the dark feathers.

And there was an adorable barn owl. The sanctuary has several, and I didn’t take note of this one’s name while snapping photos. I did notice he/she wasn’t too happy with the tethering situation on that particular day, but did stop pecking at the leather long enough to pose for a few pictures. It was my first time seeing many of these raptors. They are beautiful birds.

barn owl
Gorgeous markings on this little barn owl.

Not to be forgotten was a red-tailed hawk, of which the sanctuary has several.

red tail
Stunning and alert, this is one of the raptors that caught my eye.

After admiring these birds for a good, long while, we meandered back to the outside exhibits, where we saw a number of stunning eagles, some pigeons, snowy owls, and this guy, who looked like he couldn’t wait to get into some trouble.

osprey
This osprey had a mischievous glint in his eyes.
eagle eye 2
As I couldn’t capture a decent eagle picture at the zoo, I was glad to discover a number of these regal high-flyers at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Somehow, we completely missed the Nature Center and Gift Shop, which is what happens, I guess, when you forget to look at the map.

It was, however, a very satisfactory self-guided tour; one well worth taking.

Postscript: After posting this, a reader asked me about tethering. The ones tethered were on display. The birds have large cages they stay in, which include shelters for when the weather is bad. Many of the birds at the center are rescues, and some have lasting injuries which would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild. Others have imprinted on humans. The World Bird Sanctuary is a non-profit organization, and accepts both donations and dedicated volunteers. They have a great website: www.WorldBirdSanctuary.org