Talking nature: Masters of the sky

By Ron Taube
Contributing Columnist

If you’re at all interested in birds, or more specifically raptors, you should definitely see the Masters of the Sky program at the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings. Every year at this time a traveling program from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, Mo. comes to Minnesota with their raptors from all over the world and puts on a show unlike any other that you are likely to see.

Snowy owl Tundra is shown on the left and Eurasian eagle owl Zenia on the right. Both are females.

Snowy owl Tundra is shown on the left and Eurasian eagle owl Zenia on the right. Both are females.

The World Bird Sanctuary rehabilitates hundreds of birds every year and their mission is to “preserve the earth’s biological diversity and to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.” The Carpenter Nature Center under the direction of Jen Vieth has 425 acres in Minnesota on the St. Croix River with 300 more acres on the Wisconsin side. It provides hiking trails and lots of activities for family education.

My wife Carolyn and I attended their show on a recent Saturday morning. All the seats were filled in the large room and we could hear the squawking of a raptor as Terry Graves took the podium. Terry talked about the many raptors that they had saved over the years and how much she loved her work. A young volunteer soon came out from the back of the room and released a large eagle, which flew directly over our heads and landed on Terry’s outstretched, leather-gloved hand. It was a Harris hawk named Sheldon that was mostly dark grayish with reddish brown on its wings. These birds are mostly seen in the southwest and in Europe. Unlike most raptors, they hunt in groups and if there is a single pole to sit upon to view the terrain from, the family will actually sit on top of each other. Terry told us much more about the birds habits while it flew back and forth between she and the volunteer. We had been warned not to stand up during the show as the birds might fly into us. As the varied birds flew over our heads we could even feel the wind from their wings on our faces.

Next we saw the hooded vulture from Africa named Desi. Desi is a medium sized vulture, Terry explained, with a whitish head that lives off of mostly dead carcasses and fights off enemies by regurgitating on them.

Our next raptor was Max the tawny eagle from Africa. This bird can see 8-10 times farther than humans. Terry said that if this bird could read, it would be able to read a newspaper from the length of a football field. It eats carrion and small rodents and it has a big mouth that can swallow rats whole. They can live up to 45 years.

We then saw Zenia the Eurasian eagle owl and Tundra, a snowy owl found in St. Louis. The snowy is the heaviest owl in North America at 4 pounds and the Eurasian eagle owl is the largest owl in the world and weighs about 6 pounds. We then went from seeing the largest owl in the world to one of the smaller ones – a tawny owl. Next we saw a barn owl, a species which used to be quite common throughout the country but is now a rare bird. Part of the World Bird Sanctuary’s goal is to save and restore the barn owls population.

The show finished with a crow that took your donations and put them in the donation box. Terry said that the crow might choke on coins so give only dollars and that she particularly liked large numbered bills. It was a fun how to see.

You can read more about the Carpenter Nature Center at carpenternaturecenter.org and more about the World Bird Sanctuary at http://www.worldbirdsanctuary.org. More of my photos can be seen at  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronsthoughts/. I thank my wife Carolyn for taking notes as I took my photos.

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