I spent some time the other day at an Audubon Birds of Prey Center near my home. There were generous cages with injured and healing birds that will never be able to be released back into nature and they were cool to see and read about. But what captivated me most were the birds who were tethered to stands – on the glove –only feet away from me.
It’s not often I can flirt with a great horned owl or be yelled at by a bald eagle without ducking for cover. In my day to day ramblings I seldom come upon a mystical faced barn owl or an opalescent beaked caracara. But here I get to make their acquaintance. And because they have all been injured and are now too used to humans to be released, I can see them whenever I want.
I wasn’t born a bird person. It took towering, slow moving, traffic stopping birds to pique my interest. The Sand Hill Cranes. They are all over Florida and they always have the right of way. Just ask them. Traveling in pairs or sometimes families, the Sand Hill Cranes take their time, dangerously close to busy roads, to dig in the loose soil for their food. When they are in flight they continuously call to one another with their hollow, eerie voices.
After them, the rest of the bird world just sort of fell into place.
Each type of bird has their set of defining traits and each individual bird, if you’re lucky enough to get to know one, had its own unique personality.
Allow me to introduce you to my horned owl. He loves me, I can tell. While I spoke to him of my day and my meanderings among the other birds he would look pensively toward the sky, deciding if he agreed with what I was saying or perhaps wondering when I would stop talking to him so he could go back to sleep. When I complimented him on the fine plumery of his ‘ears’ his eyes would get wide, then crinkle into an appreciative smile.
I explained how I used to think a barred owl and a barn owl were the same thing. We laughed and laughed at that one. He demonstrated for me the flexibility of his neck by turning his head this way and that, showing me the back more than I was comfortable with.
When the eagle across from him started yelling at me to shut up and go away my owl friend just rolled his eyes, making a snide comment under his breath about, ‘past his feeding time’ or ‘neurotic.’ Something to that effect.
Not wanting to continue to disturb the fine symbol of our country, I bid adieu to my owl for the time being. I walked the grounds spying turtles, dragonflies and bees in addition to the avian life within the sanctuary. I nodded at the shy falcon and marveled at the continuous call and response of the ospreys.
I met up with Ufta, the black vulture, out for her afternoon constitutional. She would run a couple of feet hop once or twice believing she was getting away with something, until one of her caretakers stepped into her path putting a halt to her shenanigans. She bowed her head and walked slowly again.
I interrupted the sleep of a screech owl the size of my fist when I accidentally dropped the guide book. He was not pleased and looked quite surprised as he cast his huge eyes in my direction. I apologized, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t accept it. To be fair, I was not the only noisemaker on the porch. There were two little hawklet type birds that were creating quite a stir as well.
Before I took my leave I sauntered back over to my owl, pretending like I belonged there. The eagle was not fooled. He didn’t yell at me this time, but he looked sternly in my direction then hopped to next farthest post. I would have to do a lot of work on that relationship.
I made eye contact once more with my owl, thanking him for the fine conversation. He nodded in response dismissing me. I tipped my imaginary hat at the eagle in thanks for not alerting the troops of my second arrival and apologized for creating any distress. He pretended to ignore me, but I know he heard me. I saw him peek over his shoulder as I walked away.
These are Birds with a capital B. Big. Beautiful. Badass Raptors. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them and can’t wait to go back to strike up more conversations. I hear the turkey vulture is quite the comedian.