Rapturous over raptors

By Terri Harber June 18, 2012 10:09 am

Lynn Tompkins' 9-year-old kestrel,  Angus, captivates the audience Friday at the Baker County Library. Tompkins brought other birds of prey with her from Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, including a red-tailed hawk and a barn owl.
Lynn Tompkins' 9-year-old kestrel, Angus, captivates the audience Friday at the Baker County Library. Tompkins brought other birds of prey with her from Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, including a red-tailed hawk and a barn owl.
By Terri Harber

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The meeting room at the Baker Public Library vibrated with excitement on Friday as operators of a wildlife sanctuary showed a few birds of prey to dozens of local children.

A little boy asked “How do they fly?”

“They flap their wings,” replied Lynn Tompkins, director of Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton.

And when Tompkins talked about how red-tailed hawks are excellent at soaring, a little girl jumped up and stood on top of her chair. With her arms outstretched as if they were wings she repeated Tompkins’ description of where the hawks fly.

“Way up high!"

One of the birds became a little overexcited and slipped off its perch. A cord attached to the perch on one end and to its leg on the other kept it from hitting the ground head first. The cord also keeps the birds from flying off and from inadvertently attacking someone they perceive as a threat. That’s also why there was a line across the floor that the children were told not to cross.

When the bird slipped, one of its feathers also fell off and some of the children put their hands over their mouths. Others gasped. With a little human assistance, however, the bird was back up on his perch again surveying the crowd.

Blue Mountain provides critical care for rescued wildlife in distress. Public appearances help the organization promote awareness and appreciation of these birds. Most of the animals cared for by people at the refuge are released back into the wild once they’ve healed. 

The even-tempered birds taken to public events are among those rescued that no longer are able to survive out on their own because of their injuries. 

Ruby is a red-tailed hawk that was hit by a car. She underwent surgery but still needs assistance from humans. These types of birds love to dine on rodents but would also eat reptiles and other birds if mice, voles, chipmunks or squirrels weren’t available for dinner. 

A barn owl named Helen repeatedly and rhythmically turned her body to the left and then to right. One of the parents said the bird looked like it was dancing. It was actually trying to get a good focus on what was in front of it. Owls, like hawks, also enjoy eating rodents but will consume smaller birds and some insects if no rodents are around. 

Sage, a great horned owl, was blinded in one eye. These owls can turn their heads 135 degrees in each direction because their eyeballs can’t scan around. They hunt at night and can prey on animals up to two or three times larger. They’ll gladly dine on hares, rabbits and a variety of other mammals as well as reptiles, fish, insects and other birds.

Even barn owls.

Angus, an American kestrel (a type of falcon), would eat mice, voles, lizards, grasshoppers and dragonflies. They’ll also go for snakes, bats and squirrels.

Tompkins’ presentation was about the birds and their ecological importance. She held up replicas of the birds’ skulls and the types of eggs each type of bird lays. Dark patterns on some of the eggs are intended to keep predators away.

At one point she talked about how people hunting for other animals can harm hawks and other raptors. Lead bullets used to injure or kill other animals will poison birds of prey if they get to those animals first and eat them. The lead can make hawks, falcons and other birds of prey ill, weak and vulnerable. It also makes it difficult for them to reproduce, she said. 

Pesticides, power poles and wind turbines are other dangers to these birds. Non-lead shot won’t poison the raptors. Precautions often can spare the birds from the other human-caused dangers.

Experts say these predators also serve as living barometers of ecosystem changes. 

“I thought they were cool,” said Isaiah Huerta, 10. “I didn’t know some of them would eat dogs.”

That would be a great horned owl. It could badly injure or kill a small dog or cat and sometimes will eat one. A red-tailed hawk also could hurt or kill small pets as well.

Blue Mountain Wildlife is open on the first and third Saturdays of each month through October and by appointment. The refuge is a nonprofit organization and gladly accepts donations and offers membership packages. For details, call 541-278-0215 or visit www.bluemountainwildlife.org

This library event capped off the first full week of summer vacation from public school for children in the Baker area.