The auditorium at the Concord Library recently was filled with children who had come to see the birds of prey that accompanied Kate Olukalns, senior bird presenter and trainer with the Carolina Raptor Center.
The children, age 5-12, gathered close as Olukalns brought out the first bird: Lakota, a 13-year-old, red shouldered hawk. Lakota had fallen out of the nest as a baby and was blind in one eye.
Olukalns explained that the Raptor Center, in Huntersville, takes in 800-1,000 birds each year, rehabilitating and releasing many of them into the wild. But some, like Lakota, are too seriously injured to survive in the wild and stay at the center, which houses 26 species of injured raptors.
The raptor visit was part of the Cabarrus County Library’s summer reading program, which held events like the Raptor Center visit to encourage reading.
Olukalns described how each bird being shown would function in the wild and the traits they shared. “Birds of prey have talons for tearing their food because they don’t have teeth,” she said. “Why don’t they have teeth? Because teeth are heavy, and the birds must be light to be able to fly.”
She then demonstrated the difference between a black vulture wing and that of a great horned owl wing, flapping them at the audience as she went by. “The owl’s wing is very quiet so that it can sneak up on its food, while the vulture is louder because its food source is usually dead,” said Olukalns.
A tiny screech owl named Akai elicited the most “awwwws” from the crowd as it quietly chirped at Olukalns, begging for a treat. Not much bigger than her hand, the owl came to the center because it had been raised improperly, imprinted and habituated to humans to the point that it could not survive in the wild.
The last bird, Emma, a 12-year-old female barn owl, came to the center in 2004 and is typical of many of the birds that are seen there. She had been hit by a car and broken both her wings.
“That is, without a doubt, the number one reason that we get birds into the hospital, is that they are hit by a car,” said Olukalns. “Roadside litter attracts little rodents to the side of the road. When these birds are hunting, a lot of the times they have tunnel vision and aren’t paying attention to their surroundings when they go after that little rodent.”
After the presentation, the children were allowed to touch the feathers on the black vulture wing, compare it to the great horned owl wing and touch the talon of an osprey.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.