On Friday evening Raptor Rehabilitator Julie Collier introduced six birds to a packed house in the Merriam Room. She also brought along many Native American artifacts, many incorporating feathers from birds of prey.

Collier and Jim Parks operate Wingmasters, a licensed raptor rehabilitation company that strives to release healed birds back into the wild. They also house some handicapped birds, and many are used in education programs, something they’ve been doing since 1994.

First up was the American Kestrel, the smallest falcon in North America. Once called a sparrow hawk, its presence is on the decline in the United States. People learning falconry often start with the kestrel due to its manageable size.

The Peregrine Falcon then took center stage, and this is a good sized predator that was once nearly wiped out by DDT. Nationally, there were less than 40 mating pairs in 1962 when aggressive efforts began to save the species. Most live in cities where they perch high on buildings before hunting their favorite food, pigeons.

The 17-year-old Red-Tailed Hawk was introduced next. Often called a chicken hawk, it is a true rodent grabber in the wild. Its four foot wingspan allows it to effortlessly ride the thermals while it waits for prey. Collier showed a buffalo hide shield decorated with its feathers as well as weasel skins.

The next three raptors were owls which Collier describes as “not wise, very dim.” The first was the Eastern Screech Owl which is commonly heard but rarely seen in Auburn. Fearing larger avian predators, they hide all day and hunt at night, often seeking out smaller song birds and rodents. Their instinct is to not move while resting.

Next up was the Great Horned Owl, a massive bird with a 5-foot wingspan. Despite the large wings, it generates no noise as they flap making it a silent flyer. Falcons and hawks, on the other hand, make a lot of noise when flying. Many claim this owl is color blind, but it is not. It does see a limited range of colors, but they include some very bright tones.

The final raptor of the evening was the tiny Saw-Whet Owl which drew lots of “awes” from the audience. Like the Screech Owl, it also hides during the day and uses its impressive 19-inch wingspan to hunt at night.
Other Native American artifacts were decorated with beautiful feathers from the Golden Eagle, Collier’s favorite eagle that she terms “the ultimate hunting machine.” Although the Bald Eagle is our national bird, its white or brown feathers are dull by comparison.

This was a terrific and educational presentation. Colliers relationship with each bird was very apparent, and they all trust her. Try to catch it next time.