Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Extant Theropod Appreciation #9: Raptor Sunday

Patrick the American Kestrel
Patrick, an American Kestrel and stealer of hearts.

This past Sunday, Jennie and I visited the Indiana Raptor Center in Nashville, a small tourist town about a half hour from Bloomington and the IU campus. Situated on a ridge in Indiana woodland, backing up to a ravine, the Raptor Center is home to dozens of species, both local and exotic. The center's president and executive director, Patti Reynolds, along with education director and master falconer Laura Edmunds, showed us around the facilities and introduced us to some of the resident raptors. I think we made friends of both the feathered and non-feathered kind, and I hope that the sentiment is mutual.

Barred Owls
Barred owl with something yummy.

I occasionally get bushwhacked by the beauty of an avian critter and do posts in the Extant Theropod Appreciation series. This week will certainly be in that vein as I share some of my feelings about the visit. I have never really interacted with raptors in this way, save for the odd presentation in grade school or nature centers. This was a whole different ball of wax: learning the animal's names and stories, seeing the relationship they had with their keepers and rehabilitators, dodging them as they flew inches above my head (an experience I commend Jennie for enduring). You look into the eyes of an owl or a falcon, and even though I'm as skeptical and non-spiritual as they come, you can understand how mythologies spring from these animals. You can understand why we might project human qualities onto them, and either aspire to the nobler ones or personify our fears.

Oliver the Peregrine
Oliver the Peregrine Falcon, with a quail for lunch.

Mowgli the Great Horned Owl
Mowgli, a female Great Horned Owl.

To me, though, you must set those poetic and mythic associations aside and focus on the inherent value of an animal. An owl is not wisdom. A bald eagle is not righteousness. They are instead integral parts of their habitats. There is a reason they live where they do: they are living components in ecosystems. Those ecosystems in turn have evolved to become the environments which first sustained our ancestors, and to alter that system is to impact our own lives in ways we can't always predict. The Indiana Raptor Center and related organizations don't just rehabilitate the broken and needy, they help us understand how we can correct broken environments and see just how needy we are.

Ben the Bald Eagle
Thunderin' Ben the Bald Eagle, making that distinctive Bald Eagle cry.

If you have a local raptor rescue center, I'd encourage you to see if tours are available and, if you're looking for some way to contribute, donate time, talent, or money. This was such a huge honor for me, and if you've also had little experience with these animals up close, you owe it to yourself to look them in the eyes, examine their plumage, and see them in flight up close. Thanks to Patti and Laura for being such obliging hosts (extra thanks to Laura for keeping me on my toes - when we first arrived, she said "So, you're here to see the... pickling operation?" and I, gullible dope that I am, fell for it, wondering if I'd come to the wrong address. Even after this, she pulled five or six more fast ones on me before I became more alert). I'll have one or two more posts about this visit, but you can also check out photos and a video in my Flickr set.

2 comments:

  1. Great post and wonderful pictures! What an amazing place. I can think of one or two places within visiting distance which will have flight displays and such, but probably unlikely to allow a tour at such close quarters. What a privilege. I look forward to further posts.

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