Talking Nature: Masters of the sky at nature center

by Rob Taube

Carolyn and I attended one of the shows put on by the World Bird Sanctuary at the National Eagle Center about five years ago and we saw another one there a couple of years later.

Bateleur eagle. Photo by Ron Taube
Bateleur eagle. Photo by Ron Taube

This was the first time we had seen one at Carpenter Nature Center near Hastings however.

The World Bird Sanctuary is near St. Louis, Mo., and provides education as well as a healing hospital which services up to 300 injured birds a year and it also provides a traveling show with a select group of raptors from all over the world.

On the first Saturday in March Carolyn and I arrived early so that we could walk around the Carpenter Nature Center a bit before the show.

We walked the loop and saw an eagle nest that we were told had nesting eagles already but we didn’t see an eagle.

Later the naturalist Jen told me that it might have been lying low in the nest which was quite possible.

Carpenter Nature Center is just north and east of the town of Hastings and it is quite a well equipped place with many birding and nature programs as well as some majestic views of the St. Croix river valley.

I had been there only once before and that was last spring. It is a beautiful center.

After our walk around the area we came back just in time for the show. The room filled up fast with maybe 200 visitors.

A woman named Terry started the show by talking about the World Bird Sanctuary and asking everyone to stay in their seats unless they wanted to be hit by a flying raptor.

Eastern screech owl. Photo by Ron TaubeThe birds fly from one naturalist to another right over the audiences heads.

Several times during the next hour raptors were just inches over my head and I could feel the swoosh of the air from their wings as they flew from one person to another.

The first bird introduced was the Harris hawk. This bird has a 3.6-foot wingspan and it lives in areas from southwest United States to Argentina.

They eat small mammals and birds and lizards and are now often used in falconry.

The bird flew from the back of the room to our narrator’s leather gloved arm which caused lots of oohs and aahs from the audience.

Each naturalist had long heavy leather gloves on and carried bits of meat in their hand to cause the birds to fly.

After the Harris hawk we saw the long crested eagle.  This magnificent bird was from Central Africa.

It is a relatively small eagle with dark brown to black plumage, long, white feathered legs, and a well barred tail.

The long lrested eagle  is about 22 inches in length and hunts mostly small rodents, lizards ,fish and fruit.  The crest in its name is atop his head.

Terry explained that this bird has eight to 10 times the power of human vision.

If it could read it would be able to read a small printed newspaper from the distance of a football field away.

It can swallow a mouse whole and it has powerful feet that it uses to tear snakes apart for eating.

Our next bird was named Debbie and she was a hooded vulture and she was also from Africa.

Terry went on to explain that Debbie eats virtually everything.

The hooded vulture is often found around dead carcasses. It sticks its head into the open wounds of many dead animals and is usually the last to feed on them after other land animals have had their feed.

She said that a vulture helps the ecology. It can eat diseased and poisoned animals that would kill other animals because its acidic stomach kills every bug there is.

Its stomach acids are so strong that they could dissolve the paint on your car and if it should ever throw up on you the acid would cause rashes even if you washed it off at once.

She said that she has smelled its vomit and it’s the most disgusting thing she has ever smelled. If it threw up in this room , she said, it would clear the room in seconds.

Next we saw the Eurasian eagle owl which she stated was the largest owl in the world.

This owl has 100 times better vision than humans at night and can see four football fields away. Its ear tufts can be used as a mood indicator.

On a smaller scale we next saw the tawny owl which inhabits Europe and Asia.

We then saw the even smaller eastern screech owl which can be found even here in Minnesota.

At one point we saw the tawny owl, eastern screech owl alongside the Eurasian eagle owl for comparison.

We then saw the barn owl  which is the most widely distributed species of owl in the world; it is found everywhere except for the polar and the desert regions.

It flew many times over our heads and we got a very close look at him as one of the volunteers carried him slowly around the room.

Next we saw the bateleur eagle. The name bateleur is French for acrobatic and this bird with its short tail is capable of many acrobatic feats in the air.

With its distinctive red beak and talons and tan and black feathers it hunts an area of 250 square miles in a day in an area south of the Sahara Desert.

It can eat up to 300 mice in one day. Its face changes color somewhat because of its moods Terry told us.

Finally we saw the white necked raven from Africa, which we were told is one of the smartest birds in the world.

It was brought to the front of the room and placed on a large box with a slot in it.
We were told that if you hand it some paper money, no coins because he could choke on them, that it would take the bills and stuff them into the box.

We then were given a demonstration and encouraged to give him large bills if possible.

It was a fun show and very educational. I want to thank my wife Carolyn for taking notes so I could concentrate on taking photos.

The Carpenter St Croix Valley Nature Center is at 12805 St. Croix Trail, Hastings. Its office number is 651 437-4359 and it is open seven days a week between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Editor’s note: Ron Taube is a member of the creative writers group at the Coon Rapids Senior Center.

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