Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Birds of prey star at Raptor Fest

ST. PETERSBURG — When camping, paddling or fishing, there's nothing more enjoyable than seeing a bird of prey in action. Most Tampa Bay residents are used to seeing osprey, but did you know that Florida has more than 30 species of raptor, including hawks, eagles, falcons and owls?

I can never get enough of these birds. They are strong, stately, veritable action heroes of the animal kingdom.

But don't take my word for it. Stop by Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg on Saturday for Raptor Fest and see for yourself.

Following are biographies of Saturday's stars, provided by Gabriel Vargo and Pat Bradley, longtime Boyd Hill volunteers, who help manage the preserve's birds of prey rehabilitation center:

Abiaka, the bald eagle

Boyd Hill's juvenile male bald eagle fell from its nest on Honeymoon Island during the 2010 nesting season. The bird cut its right wing and severed two tendons, which could not be reattached. That meant it could not fly and survive in the wild.

The bald eagle, named Abiaka after the Seminole leader, will not get its adult white head and tail until it is 5 years old. According to Vargo, the legendary warrior Abiaka "embodied the qualities of an eagle: bravery, pride, defiance, independence."

Archimedes, the great horned owl

This bird transferred to the preserve in September 2012 from the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. The preserve's staff doesn't know much of Archimedes' back story, other than it had arrived at the sanctuary a few months earlier after being shot in the right wing. The wound was so severe the wing had to be partially amputated.

Phantom, the barred owl

You might hear this old girl answering her suitors' calls, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?" There is a male in the nearby woods who seems set on springing Phantom from her enclosure. This barred owl has been at the preserve since 2002. She was found in Alachua County after being struck by a car.

According to Indian legend, the barred owl is the gentlest of all the owls. This holds true for Phantom. Interesting fact: Barred owls are one of the few owls that have dark eyes. They have blue nictitating membranes (a third eyelid) and blink slowly when being talked to.

Shaheen, the Barbary falcon

This bird is a hybrid, a cross between an arctic gyrfalcon and a North African peregrine, bred for hunting. It was donated to Boyd Hill in December 2011 by Steve Peacock, a falconer from New Port Richey.

Shaheen hunted for seven years before suffering a succession of eye infections that ended with the removal of its right eye. The bird has lost its ability to judge distance (i.e. depth perception), which meant it could no longer be used for falconry.

The screech owls

Boyd Hill has four Eastern screech owls, two rufous morphs and two gray morphs. The older gray is called Stretch and has been at Boyd Hill since July 2002. It earned its name because whenever it felt threatened it would make itself appear taller. Stretch suffered a head injury after it flew into a large window, which led to optic nerve damage and reduced vision, limiting its ability to hunt for food in the wild.

Montezuma, the crested caracara

Another recent addition to the program, this bird came from the Animal Hospital of Northwood in Safety Harbor. Montezuma, who is more than 20 years old, also came from the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. It has severe cataracts in both eyes but loves to eat and is responding well to training.

Shadow, the red-shouldered hawk

Donated in 2001 by the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Shadow arrived as a fledgling and molted into adult plumage during its first year in rehabilitation after falling from a nest. Shadow has limited sight in its left eye so this bird cannot be release into the wild.

Dancer, the red-tailed hawk

This bird suffered a broken humerus, which was initially patched with a metal plate. But its wing never aligned properly so it could soar correctly or generate enough speed to catch prey. This bird got its name because it likes to "dance" around on the glove during walks and programs. Dancer likes mice but doesn't like chicks, which makes him no "chicken hawk."

Raptor Fest is a great way to introduce family and friends to Florida's fabulous birds of prey. In addition to trained raptors in free flight and live birds of prey exhibits and presentations, there will also be a variety of environmental exhibitors. To learn more, call Boyd Hill Nature Preserve at (727) 893-7326.


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