WEST HIGHLAND — Get up close and personal with birds of prey—including a red-tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel and a great horned owl—when Wild Wings Environmental Education brings the Raptors to Woodbury Library, 3265 Federal Blvd., Saturday, Nov. 5 from 2 to 3 p.m.
Wild Wings offers programs using the live birds to promote respect for wild animals and the environments where they live. “Most people have great respect for birds and love to see them,” said Deanna Curtis, executive director of Wild Wings. “What they might not know is their importance in our ecosystem. They keep the balance: birds are nature’s best pest control. They also disperse seeds and act as a clean-up crew when dead things are lying around.”
Raptors are common in the inner city. “Wherever people have bird feeders out, raptors like Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks are likely to show up,” Curtis said.
Wild Wings gives more than 150 presentations each year at schools, libraries, festivals and corporate events. Curtis, the organization’s only paid staff member, is helped by about 20 volunteers. Curtis keeps seven different raptors and one raven outside her home in Centennial, where volunteers come several times a week to help with cleaning and training.
The birds are trained to stand on a glove while curious eyes look at them. The barn owl and red-tailed hawk do flying demonstrations and the red-tailed hawk, named Karma, comes when called. Curtis says the human-to-bird bond is built using food. “Once they realize that you’re feeding them and not hurting them, they come around fast.”
The program at Woodbury, “Raptors of the Rockies,” will explore the tools that Colorado raptors use to be successful in the wild. The interactive presentation will feature Karma, the red-tailed hawk; Cliff, a peregrine falcon; Cache, an American kestrel; and Sophie, a great horned owl.
Curtis has been a master falconer since 2004 and is president of the Colorado Hawking Club. She became involved in outreach education 16 years ago and started Wild Wings in 2007. “My passion is helping people walk away with a greater appreciation for wildlife, and showing what simple things they can do to make it a better world.”
In addition to the four raptors, she’ll bring to Woodbury, Curtis also provides homes for an eastern screech owl, a Swainson’s hawk, a burrowing owl and a raven. Most have come to her from wildlife rehabilitation organizations across the country. “The most common bird injuries are caused by getting hit by a car,” she said. “Others have been shot. Our American kestrel suffered burns when he flew down a chimney, and our Swainson’s hawk was illegally stolen from his nest and had his flight feathers cut off. Birds that are not able to survive in the wild become part of our education programs.”
An exception is Curtis’s barn owl, Cupid, who was born and raised in captivity. “Barn owls are special because they are in their own family. They have the best hearing of all owls and their flight is silent. Barn owls are on the endangered species list in nine states in the U.S., making their conservation message extremely important.”
Curtis’s raven, named Atlas, is not a raptor but a member of the Corvidae family of birds. “Corvids, including blue jays, crows and magpies, are the smartest birds—smarter than dogs,” Curtis said. “They can problem-solve. Crows can complete a nine-step process in order to get food. Some corvids can be taught to talk.”
Karma the red-tailed hawk, nine years old, is Curtis’s falconry bird, featured in Wild Wings’ program on the ancient art of falconry. “Traditionally falconry was about hunting and the prey was for human consumption—without any lead in the meat [lead would be there if prey was shot],” said Curtis. “Nothing was wasted: humans ate the breast and legs, while the bird ate the head and internal organs.”
“Mysteries of Migration,” another Wild Wings program, explores questions like “How do birds know when to leave and where to go?” Curtis says: “Their internal clock tells them it’s time to go when the days get longer or shorter. Some have a metal ore in their head that helps them navigate, or hearing so sensitive that they hear the Atlantic Ocean in one ear and the Pacific in the other. Songbirds fly at night and navigate by the stars and the moon. Some young birds migrate with their parents, but others must go alone to a place they’ve never been, on instinct alone.”
To help migrating birds, skyscrapers are turning off their lights (because birds fly into the light). Everyone can help by putting water and seed out for birds and keeping cats indoors during migration season.
All of Wild Wings’ programs include a discussion of the important roles of raptors in the environment and what small things people can do to keep the balance. “The new development in our neighborhood attracted rats to people’s backyards,” Curtis said. “People used d-CON to poison the rats, which killed two owls that were living here. Secondary poisoning kills raptors and other predators, including foxes and coyotes. Plus it didn’t get rid of the rats. Better to let nature control the ecosystem. We should quit thinking we can control, and let nature do what it’s best at.”
She said people can help wildlife by recycling and reusing. “Using fewer resources, like not buying bottled water, is a benefit, as is picking up trash and fishing line.”
Wild Wings’ programs can be booked for between $ 125 and $ 200, depending on the size of the audience and location. Wild Wings depends on program fees and donations to keep flying. Curtis said the cost of keeping the birds is about $ 35,000 annually, including food, vet bills and equipment.
She hopes to increase the number of presentations to 200 per year and bring on another staff person to help. “We’re growing, but we’re at an awkward stage right now, where we’re challenged to keep up with the demand but can’t quite afford to hire someone else,” Curtis said.
Bird-lovers can adopt a bird for $ 25 to $ 40, donate needed items, or provide cash. For details see wildwingseducation.org or call 303.734.0384.
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