A lesson on birds of prey

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Wild Wings educator tells about raptors

By Jenny Arnold

INDIAN LAND – Clair Thain held up a formidable-looking taloned foot that once belonged to a hawk and told her audience of children how a hawk uses those sharp claws to catch a rodent meal.

Thain, a Wild Wings educator for the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., spoke to a group of children and their parents at the Del Webb Library at Indian Land on June 17. It was the first Wednesday event for the library’s summer reading program.

Thain passed the foot around to the children, who could hardly contain their excitement.

On a table in the meeting room sat five animal crates covered with cloth blankets bearing the raptor center logo. Inside the crates were the special guests for the day – five raptors, or birds of prey, that Thain brought with her.

She took Guilford, a barred owl, out of his cage first. While the children wiggled in excitement, Thain reminded the children not to clap or talk because it could scare the birds. Although a little nervous at first, flapping his wings, Guilford sat placidly on Thain’s gloved wrist, a leather strap around his taloned feet.

Thain told the group that Guilford fell out of his nest when he was a baby, and broke his wing, which didn’t heal properly. This left him unable to fly and hunt for food, and he is a permanent resident at the raptor center.

A barred owl has super senses designed for finding prey, such as mice and rats, in the dark. Their eyes occupy about 75 percent of their heads, and their ears are crooked, one being higher than the eyes, and one lower. This helps the birds pinpoint sounds in the dark.

Another bird that brought smiles was the tiny Eastern screech owl named Jamie Bond. Although the little raptor looked around the room, she is actually blind because she was hit by a car, Thain explained.

Rats and mice feed on roadkill or litter on roadsides, and the rodents attract raptors. Raptors often end up at the center because they’ve been hit by cars, Thain said.

Thain also introduced an American kestrel, a small falcon, to the group. Kestrels hunt smaller birds, taking their prey as they fly. But Cinnamon, Thain explained, was raised by humans and imprinted on them, meaning she did not learn how to hunt like wild birds do. She is a longtime resident of the raptor center.

After the program, Indian Land resident Bailey Penegar, 11, said she enjoyed seeing the wild birds up close.

She said she once saw a hawk hovering above the ground at her house, and she liked the large red-tailed hawk Thain showed the group. But the screech owl and kestrel also made an impression.

“I like the tiny ones, too, because they’re cute,” Penegar said.

Thain said she hopes the children who attend her educational programs learn what to do if they find an injured raptor and how important it is to protect the environment.

“If I litter, mice are going to come and then the raptors,” Thain said.

The birds she brought to Indian Land on June 17 play a very important role in raising awareness, Thain said.

“They’re ambassadors of their species,” she said.

For more about the Carolina Raptor Center, go to www.carolinaraptorcenter.org.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Arnold at jarnold@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151