The Big Lake Parent Teacher Organization arranged for visitors from the Minnesota Raptor Center to visit Liberty and Independence Schools this week.
Judy Moran brought four birds out to Independence School Monday and came back Wednesday to visit Liberty School. Students had an opportunity to see the birds and ask questions about them.
Birds come to the Raptor Center from as far away as South America. If possible, they are treated and released back to the wild. Those who cannot be released sometimes become education birds. The Raptor Center treats about 800 birds per year.
The first bird Moran brought out was a Red-Tailed Hawk, which had been injured while flying to close to a road.
“You sometimes see the hawk sitting up on lamp posts near the road,” Moran said. “When we throw out a half-eaten apple core or a few unwanted french fries, it encourages mice and other vermin to come. The hawks are there to eat the mice but sometimes that means they get hit by a car.”
The hawk, named Alulah, is about five years old and was hit by a car. She is also blind on the left side, Moran said. Like all raptors, she has very good eyesight. Next out was a Great Horned Owl, which, unlike the hawk, hunts at night on silent wings. The owl can turn its head 270º. They have 14 vertebrae in their necks and their head is mounted in only one spot, not two as in the case of mammals. This allows the owl, which also has enormous eyes, to see things without using turning its head much, a useful ability when it is hiding in the daytime.
An owls’ big eyes allow it to see well in very dim light conditions. It also has excellent hearing but apparently no sense of smell or taste. Owls are one of the few predators which will eat a skunk, Moran said.
Owls love to eat mice and can hear a mouse under a foot of snow. Once it eats a mouse and owl will regurgitate a pellet containing the parts of the creature it cannot digest. like the fur and bones.
“We sell the owl pellets and that’s how she earns her keep,” said Moran. “You can separate the pellets and find the little bones inside so you can tell what they are eating.”
This particular owl was found on the ground as a baby, Moran said. Although its parents were still caring for it, somebody found it and decided to raise it as a pet.
“That’s not a good idea,” Moran said. “Now although this owl is perfectly healthy, she has no idea how to be an owl in the wild.”
The same thing happened to the next bird Moran displayed, an American Kestrel, part of the falcon family. One of the smallest of the raptors, the American Kestrel has the speed and the beak and talons of the falcon family.
The Kestrel was living in a nest in a tree when the tree was cut down. Too late, the owners of the tree discovered the nest with three baby birds inside and tried to hand rear them. Now they reside at the Raptor Center permanently, Moran said.
Kestrels can see ultraviolet light. Since mouse urine shines in ultraviolet light, they can easily see it and watch the trails for their prey. Kestrels are also one of the few birds which can hover in flight.
The last bird Moran brought out was a Bald Eagle who has been at the Raptor Center for 15 years. Scientists were going to band him and release him, but they noticed there was something wrong with his eye. It was badly infected and to save his life, it was removed.
Eagles eat lots of fish and like to build their nests near lakes and rivers. They reuse their nests every year and every year they expand on them. The heaviest known eagles nest weighed two tons as scientists discovered when the tree it was built in broke.
“They like to keep their nests clean,” said Moran. “Eagles are nesting closer to people now than they ever did before. The chances are if there is an eagles nest on your property, they will come back every year