Living amongst modern day raptors


When I say “raptor” what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you imagine a scaly, agile, and clever dinosaur from Jurassic Park, you should consider yourself “normal”. However, we live among modern-day raptors too! The term “raptor” refers to birds of prey. We have about 24 native birds of prey here in Ohio and most of them are relatively common to see around Darke County. Of that 24, 16 are diurnal, or active during the day, and include vultures, falcons, hawks, and eagles. The other eight are owls which are mostly nocturnal.

A few diurnal species you are probably familiar with here in Darke County include the Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Bald Eagle. As for the owls, the three most common are the Eastern Screech-owl, the Barred Owl, and the Great Horned Owl. While most of us have probably heard of these species before, usually we never get to see them up close. This, of course, is a good thing since most wild animals, including birds of prey, should have a healthy fear of humans which keeps them alive. Sure, some of us have had random encounters when a juvenile hawk finds himself dazed and confused on the ground, or when you see an owl in a ditch after it was hit by a car. Unfortunately, these birds rarely survive if left alone due to the dangers of domestic pets and other wild predators. Thankfully, there are rehab facilities that will care for injured or orphaned birds of prey. Some injured raptors are lucky enough to be released back near their home, while others heal, but not well enough to be released. These unreleasable birds of prey usually begin a new life as education ambassadors at zoos and nature centers.

Back in 2014, when I was the Naturalist intern, the Park District had recently built a raptor mew (bird of prey enclosure) and accepted two birds of prey: Joseph the Red-tailed Hawk and Greta the Great Horned Owl. Joseph had a wing injury and Greta was blind! I thoroughly enjoyed working with them both during my seasonal position. Unfortunately, Joseph did not live long after I left, but Greta lived a healthy life for six more years, eventually passing in 2020. It was great to work with her again as a full-time Naturalist. When I started in 2018, the Darke County Parks had just built our new raptor mew which could house three more birds of prey. It only took a year to fill those vacancies. Pip the Eastern Screech-owl was the first to arrive in January of that year. Later, in July, the Park District chose to take on two Red-tailed Hawk chicks; siblings that had found themselves on the ground after their nest tree was cut down. Sky and Spirit have since grown up into mature hawks with their beautiful red tails. Finally, in October 2018, we adopted our final raptor ambassador, Umber the Barred Owl.

All four of these birds are still with the Darke County Parks and are used for educational programming. Pip, Spirit, and Umber are excellent ambassadors who bring smiles to kids at schools, families at public events, and all who enjoy animal encounter programs with the Park District. In fact, thanks to my feathered friends, I have even adopted my own pseudo-superhero name, given to me by the kids I encounter after they attend these programs. Nowadays, my nickname as the “Bird Man” precedes me when I show up to represent the Darke County Parks at any public function.

Seeing people’s faces light up when I walk into the room with one of our raptor ambassadors on my arm never gets old. One of my favorite parts of my job is sharing these wonderful animals with all of you! If you have never attended a program with the “Bird Man” and his trusty, feathered sidekicks, I invite you to register for my upcoming program, Raptor Talk &Walk, on November 28. We will discover more about our local birds of prey with guest appearances by Pip, Umber, and Spirit. Afterward, we’ll hike into the woods in search of wild owls!

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