Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tales from a Northwoods Wildlife Rehab Center

Down a quiet road in beautiful Minocqua stands the welcome sign for the Northwoods Wildlife Center. The best part...they offer tours!

Like many nature lovers, the northwoods of Wisconsin is my "Walden" and the log-sided NWC emerges from, but remains part of, the densely pined landscape.

My education started by reminders of why they are there; warning plaques pleading for angler responsibility.

Inside were taxidermy animals, victims that live their second life for educational purposes.

Across the room a back-lit x-ray shows the lead-peppered wing of a loon.

Then I met the center's oldest resident-a 30 year old turkey vulture. Parts of her lunch are strewn around her enclosure but she is more interested in hopping around, aided by her remaining wing.

"She's ornery," drawls my tour guide who came from Georgia several weeks ago to intern with the center before going back to school for environmental management and education.

"What happened to her missing wing?"
"We think she was hit by a car."

All the permanent residents are on display in outdoor enclosures. The birds were all dry but we got soaked rushing from cover to cover. I wasn't going to let a little bit of rain take away the fun of measuring my "wing" span next to examples of eagle, osprey, or falcon. (Turns out I'm more of the osprey variety).

A trend among the birds of prey were nest injuries. Apparently the deadly talons are also hazardous to nest-mates as well. A plastic eagle foot hangs to model the size and sharpness of the real thing, but for the safety of visitors the talons had been filed or capped.

"Eagles grasp prey at around 1000 pounds of pressure, compared to 200 pounds in the human jaw," my guide explained.
Since these birds grow up in a nest full of lethal weapons, I was shocked that such injuries aren't more common.

Next to the juvenile bald eagle sporting his brown plumage was the red-hawk enclosure. Her enclosure wall was murraled as a country road running through a hay field, the telephone poles disappearing into the painted horizon. On top of a shortened telephone poll in the enclosure perched the hawk. Her shoulder injury caused her to hop from perch to perch like a fledgling bird.

"So you know when movies show eagles in desert scenes and they give that cry? Eagles, like the juvenile we saw, chirp."
"Chirp?" I'm thinking goldfinch when I heard that and the mental image wasn't congruous. She pushed a button on bird call card. Two chirps resounded from the recorder. This was surely commend knowledge to the average birder, but I was shocked.

"Someone must have thought it wasn't impressive enough so they used her call instead."

So after learning new facts and debunking previously learned ones, I left the center that had struck a cord with me and that would continue to educate and rehabilitate more.

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