Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I like birds

I like birds. This is a fact. (This is also the name of a great song by the Eels, which you can listen to here while you read.)

On Mondays I volunteer at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. I work in the Wildlife Care center where we feed and clean up after a couple of woodchucks, a baby opossum, two rabbits, numerous (and always multiplying) mice, several ducks, turtles, a crow and a raven. In addition, we take care of the raptors and other birds on Bird Hill, a collection of injured and rehabilitated birds that live year round in the sanctuary. And this is the best part for me. This is when I get to be up close and personal with three barred owls, two red-tailed hawks, a tiny yet vocal kestrel, a great horned owl and a pair of suspicious broad winged hawks. Oh, and there's also a crafty and watchful turkey vulture who peacefully cohabitates with a pheasant (who is much like a chicken, but has a screech that'll startle the pants off you if you aren't expecting it,) and a talkative crow who craves meal worms and has been there for decades. How I love "my" birds!

Yesterday I hand-fed one of the barred owls. This is unusual for an owl, if you know anything about owls, but this one is used to humans and allows us to be a little familiar with him. What an utter delight it was to hold a dead mouse up to his beak as he gently leaned in to take it from my somewhat tentative hand. I never thought I'd be casually handling dead mice but if you work with birds, that's part of the job. I suppose for some that's the gross-out part of working with animals, besides the copious amount of waste they produce (especially ducks,) but one gets used to it pretty quickly.

Bringing this blog post around to books, I credit Wesley the Owl with preparing me for this volunteer gig. In this fine and excellent book, which I've been recommending for years, Stacey O'Brien describes in beautiful detail the daily life of a barn owl, including what he eats and how to prepare it. For you more squeamish readers I won't go into detail, but let's just say that our fine feathered friends eat rodents and sometimes these mice have to be in...small pieces.

I felt so in-the-know on my first day when the staff explained the diet and feeding process for the birds. I already knew! I was then surprised to learn that not a one had read the book, but by the end of the day I think I'd sold a few of them on it. It's actually not a hard sell. The book is just wonderful.

"Wesley the Owl" also inspired me to pursue volunteering in the first place. I was thinking of that as I drove home yesterday afternoon, kind of marveling at it. One day I pick up a copy of a book with a cute bird on the cover, a year or two later I'm in a cage with a beautiful owl learning to trust him just as much as he's learning to trust me.

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