PALMYRA TWP. (Pike ) - Saturday afternoon there were many whoas and aws from children and adults alike, as various raptors were presented during Eagle Day at the Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center.
The Delaware Highlands Conservancy and Brookfield Renewable hosted the event, where Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center in Milford gave detailed synopsis of the birds of prey that included the: American bald eagle, the golden eagle, a peregrine falcon, a red tailed hawk, a great horned owl and a saw-whet owl.
First to be introduced was Sadie, a two-year-old peregrine falcon that weighed two-pounds and was discovered on a cliff in the Delaware Water Gap two years ago. Finding a pair of nesting peregrines on a cliff isn’t rare Streeter said, but it isn’t common because most in the eastern part of the country are on buildings and bridges. Just 23 days old, it was realized that she had a fractured right wing and to this day, there is no explanation as to how. Because it was scabbed and badly infected, had she not been found Streeter said she would have died. Today, Sadie’s right wing droops and she doesn’t have extension on that side and so, she now educates many about her kind.
Male peregrine falcons are smaller then females explained Streeter, because female birds of prey as a whole are larger, stronger and “dominate males throughout their lives.” Due to the chemical DDT years ago, the peregrine falcon was wiped out in 48 states because the chemical thinned their eggshells, so the young couldn’t hatch. The chemical that affected many birds, has since been banned. Both males and females, Streeter said are capable of killing a bird three to four times their size, which is unique because most predators do not go after prey much larger then themselves. All falcons except one have dark brown eyes with a dramatic facial pattern that removes the glare of the sun from their eyes.
Nesting near water, a peregrine is capable of seeing a duck from a mile away and would do a “power dive” to catch the prey. The peregrine falcon is also capable of traveling 200 miles an hour, which Streeter said makes it the fastest animal in the world. The prey is killed when the falcon snaps the neck, using a specialized hooked beak that only falcons and raptors have. Despite seeming like a “tough way to survive,” seven to 10 peregrine falcons die before turning a year old because they may starve, are orphaned, shot, hit by cars or captured by predators.
One of the largest and most common hawks in North America, Streeter introduced a three pound red tailed hawk, Neekahna who is blind in her left eye because she was hit by a car over 30 years ago. After having experimental surgery on her eye, Neekahna made a guest appearance on NBC Nightly News. The surgery was not successful though.
Red tailed hawks, Streeter said are larger wide winged birds with females like Neekahna having a four foot wing span and talons that are so strong, that when she stuck it in Streeter’s arm once, he was unable to release the grip because they are curved and sharp. This type of hawk, is able to see four to six times better than humans, which if she was able to read a newspaper would enable Neekahna the ability to read one from four football fields away. By blocking a hawk’s vision, Streeter said it is basically shutting down half of their brain activity.
Spike, a great horned owl arrived at the raptor center after he was found starving in someone’s yard. He was so thin that his breastbone was visible and was “on the edge of dying” said Streeter. It was later learned that one of his wings was broken.
An owl’s feathers, Streeter explained are soft and velvety like and their ability to catch mice is so good, they can capture 30 mice in a night. The great horned owl, like Spike are the largest and most powerful owls in North America, with females weighing up to four pounds when born. The feathers on their heads look like horns and if upset, the feathers stand up. Owls, Streeter said are always: blacks, white, grey, brown and tan colored and most resemble tree bark so they are able to “disappear during the day.”
As a whole, Streeter said owls look different than other birds because their faces are flat with their heads being narrow and eyes are on the side of their heads. The eyes are larger then humans, but they have small heads. Spike weighs just three pounds with his body to neck being nine inches long and the skull is a little larger then a golf ball. The eyes are larger than the brain and in reality “owls aren’t wise” said Streeter. There are seven extra vertebrate in the neck that makes the neck longer, which enables the head to stay fixed in one spot, whether the body moves or not. Their vision is colored and they are able to see so well, that if a mouse is in the snow, they will dive in after it. The horned owls have a poor sense of smell said Streeter, and so food like skunks are a common meal. They live in all habitats and are nosey, often declaring their territory through sounds.
Weighing three ounces with a wingspan of 18 to 20 inches, Streeter introduced Mortimer, a 17-year-old saw-whet owl. The fully-grown owl was hit by a car years ago, and is now blind in his left eye. But, thanks to a man who found him on the side of the road, despite being in shock at the time, Mortimer is now able to educate the world on owls, having already informed about half a million people of his story to date. The smallest owl in the northeast and the third smallest owl in North America, they sound like a school bus backing up and their main source of food is mice. In the summer season they eat amphibians and insects, but mainly mice and some songbirds. When born, Streeter said the saw-whet owl looks like half a cotton ball with two feet.
When Streeter introduced Benson a bald eagle, the crowd’s excitement was evident. Benson was named after a young man who found him over 20 years ago. It was discovered that he had been shot through the chest and the bullet went out his shoulder, breaking a bone that would have aided his ability to fly. Today, Benson is unable to fly because of his injury. He too travels, however, educating people about his species. Streeter said while the bald eagle isn’t bald, they are named after an English word “balde” that means white top. It is not until they are at least four years old that the white appears and until then, their heads are brown and beaks are black with brown bodies. Eventually the white appears and the beak turns yellow with lighter colored eye. The bald eagle is one of 11 species of eagles worldwide said Streeter, and they live everywhere but South America and Antartica. As fishers and scavengers, they are found near water and prefer fish.
Years ago there were 25,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles south of Canada said Streeter. But, by the mid-1960’s just 400 paris remained because of DDT and factors like water pollution. Today there are over 10,000 bald eagles as a result of being placed on the endangered species list and their habitat being protected. The greatest threat to all wildlife, Streeter said is loss of habitat. When born, the bald eagle is about the size of a human fist, but they grow quickly and return to the same nest year after year, continuing to add materials to that nest.
Lastly, Streeter introduced Julia a 21-year-old golden eagle. The 14-pound eagle has a seven-foot wingspan and measures three inches tall. Julia arrived at the center with a broken left leg after being hit by a car in Wyoming. Today, despite the leg healing she is blind in her right eye because of the accident. Called a golden eagle, Streeter explained because the feathers on the top of the head that are called hackles, are gold and copper colored. Her back talons can reach three inches, which are twice the length of a bald eagle’s back talons. Julia’s grip is so strong, that it is over a thousand pounds per square inch and if she were to grab a human hand, she could break it. Golden eagles have the ability to dive through the air at a rate of 165 to 175 miles an hour said Streeter. The golden eagle is the most powerful bird in the country as well as one of the most powerful eagles in the world, and are capable of putting a wolf on the ground. The golden eagle’s only afraid of humans since people are their only natural enemy. Julia’s feathers span from the top of her body to her toes, which is why Streeter said golden eagles are called booted eagles. Living in the northern hemisphere, the golden eagle does not breed or nest in the eastern half of the United States, but only out west and to the north.
The Delaware Valley Raptor Center, Streeter said is “concerned with conservation of birds of prey.” At the center, injured raptors receive the treatment they need, so they can hopefully be returned to the wild. But, that is not the case for all and so, the likes of the birds presented Saturday will then try to educate the world of their species.
For more information about the Delaware Valley Raptor Center visit http://dvrcoline.org/.