“Who Who Wants to See Live Raptors” was the title of the program by Raptor Biologist Janie Veltkamp and Don Veltkamp from Birds of Prey Northwest and hosted by Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.
There was a sell-out crowd and standing room only at the two presentations (5:30 and 7 p.m.) on Dec. 4 in the Education Barn at the refuge, and a capacity crowd at the Pearl Theater at 10 a.m. on Dec. 5. The presentation on live raptors included the western screech owl, great horned owl, Peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, short-eared owl and a golden eagle.
The Birds of Prey Northwest educates audiences and promotes stewardship and conservation of raptors through educational programs with live birds of prey. They provide rescue and rehabilitation to injured and orphaned birds of prey with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild. They also collaborate with others engaged in ongoing raptor research projects.
Janie Veltkamp first told the audience to remember the birds aren’t pets — they are still wild animals in Veltkamp’s care on special U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits.
You could see the pride of Janie Veltkamp and her husband Don as they carried the raptors perched on their arms in front of the room and talking softly to the birds as they discussed each of the significant features of the stately birds of prey. As Janie held the great horned owl she encouraged it to flap his wings and challenged the audience to listen for any wing beat sounds. The surprised audience detected no sounds from the wings of the owl.
“Their feathers had been adapted to stealth in flight so as to catch mice undetected while flying silently,” Janie said, “That the nocturnal birds of prey are fascinating birds of the night sky, no creature is built to hunt like the owl. Much mystery and curiosity surround this silent flyer.”
Some of the audience looked shocked when they learned that Rusty the Red-Tailed Hawk fell 100 feet as a baby when he was swept from his nest in a windstorm. Rusty was blind in one eye and had two broken wings. Now, at about three years old, Rusty’s wings are repaired and he showed them off to the audience by spreading them out as far as he could. The audience was further impressed to learn that, although he is still blind in one eye, he can still spot a small mouse almost a mile away.
One of the favorites of the program was Pennington the Peregrine Falcon. Swoosh! A peregrine falcon can dive up to 200 miles an hour to capture prey in flight, striking in midair with its outstretched talons, or claws. Peregrines usually hunt with either a swift chase or a fast dive. Starlings, pigeons, and doves are among their favorite meals.
An uncommon bird of prey, the peregrine is an adaptable falcon that can be found in habitats with cliff faces and coastal views. Peregrines live from the cold tundra to hot deserts, from sea level to high in the mountains. Their adaptability even allows them to thrive in cities where high ledges and plentiful pigeons abound.
“Peregrine falcons were endangered and there once were less than 20 pairs left in the lower 48 because DDT, a chemical used to kill bugs, was killing birds as well by reeking havoc on their reproductive systems,” Veltkamp said. “That chemical has since been banned, and a reintroduction project ensued to boost the population by bringing in chicks and raising them on top of skyscrapers until they were ready for release.”
“The world would have been a much sadder place if we lost this mighty bird,” said Janie Veltkamp.
Another favorite was Dakota the Golden Eagle. Dakota fell from his nest at a young age and was imprinted by humans after spending time at a vet and rehabilitation center. All of the birds that have been imprinted elsewhere and cannot be returned to the wild are sent to North Idaho and are trained at Birds of Prey Northwest as educational birds for purposes such as group presentations.
This powerful eagle is North America’s largest bird of prey and is displayed on the flag of Mexico. These birds are dark brown, with lighter golden-brown plumage on their heads and necks. They are swift, and can dive upon their quarry at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.
Golden eagles use their speed and sharp talons to snatch up rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. They have been known to kill small deer and mountain goats. They are a booted eagle, feathered to the foot with great power in their grasping talons to kill small animals.
Janie Veltkamp also informed the audience that the leading causes of eagle deaths in our country remain illegal shooting and lead poisoning. Eagles suffering from lead poisoning face a slow, agonizing death after feeding on animals shot with lead bullets. Wind turbines are a recently new threat to this spectacular eagle. These causes of eagle deaths could be prevented were we to change human thinking regarding this magnificent bird of prey, which is an important bioindicator species. Available today are non-lead rifle ammunitions, which are safer for eagles that ingest their fragments. Other designs of wind turbines currently being used in foreign countries would also be safer.
These aerial predators are at the top of the food chain. The Veltkamps also reminded the audience that all these raptors presented at the workshop live in North Idaho and it is our challenge to take care and protect these magnificent birds for future generations.
If you are interested to learn more go to their website www.birdsofpreynorthwest.org