Feathered Friends

DAVIS – Imagine while driving down the road, witnessing an owl, hawk, eagle or falcon being hit and injured. Would you know what to do? Visitors at Blackwater Falls State Park Saturday night learned the correct steps to take in an emergency and gained facts about West Virginia raptors while seeing these birds up close, thanks to the Three Rivers Avian Center.

Wendy Perrone said if you find a bird that needs help, contact wild bird rehabilitators or dial 911.

“Most of the 911 centers are linked up to who they should contact in those instances,” she said. “You can also contact wildlife officials. It is important to get hurt birds in for treatment as soon as possible.”

She said veterinarians often are able to put folks in contact with someone who can help.

“It’s just like us if we were hit by a car,” Wendy Perrone said. “We want the ambulance there in a hurry. We have a much better chance of getting the bird back out in the wild if we get to it quickly. Federal law has it, you can keep it up to 48 hours, then they need transferred. Please, please, please get the birds into care.”

Wendy Perrone, executive director, and Ron Perrone, education director, introduced more than 50 attendees, aged 2 to 82, to six raptors including an eastern screech owl, a great horned owl, a red tailed hawk, a red shouldered hawk, a peregrine falcon and a bald eagle.

“These birds are non-releasable birds of prey,” Wendy Perrone said. “We work with 150 to 200 patients a year. Most birds come from within the state and once in a while, from surrounding states. The idea is to get them fixed up and get them back out so they can be in their ecosystem. These are birds that were able to heal up, but would not be able to survive if we release them. So, they live with us and they go out and participate in educational demonstrations.”

The first bird introduced was Perry, a peregrine falcon.

Ron Perrone said they got her when she was migrating down near the Kanawha River.

“She was hunting too close to the ground and was struck by a vehicle,” he said. “She was struck on U.S. Interstate 64 near Hurricane. She has a dislocated shoulder – it’s a tricky injury, and we do not know anyone who can fix this kind of an injury. She can’t fly at all. That happened when she was less than a year old and now she is 14.”

Ron Perrone said peregrine falcons are amazing birds.

“They are high-speed hunters,” he said. “They have a tough life. They routinely reach speeds of 200 miles per hour when they are diving on prey. One was clocked at 244 miles per hours. It’s a dangerous lifestyle.”

Ron Perrone said the falcons were almost extinct about 30 years ago because of the overuse of DDT.

“DDT was invented in the 1950s to combat the spread of diseases by insects,” he said. “When they tested it, it tests as a weak poison and so they thought it was safe. What nobody understood was that it is a hormone mimic. In birds, it prevents females from transferring calcium into eggs, so the eggs are broken.”

He said the birds are recovering and lots are no longer endangered.

Wendy Perrone introduced Hoolie, a great horned owl.

“She looks like tree bark,” Wendy Perrone said. “If these were your eyes, in proportion, they would be the size of grapefruit. Their eyes are fixed in the sockets. To make up for that, all birds have 11 to 25 vertebra. That gives them the ability to turn their heads all around. Plus, birds have a ball and socket joint on the top of their vertebra. They can turn their heads all around and turn their chins up to the sky.”

Wendy Perrone said the great horned owl has a 7-foot wingspan, and contrary to popular belief, are able to smell as well as humans.

“They like to eat skunks,” she said. “Skunks must taste really good.”

Wendy Perrone said they have Hoolie because of Harry Potter.

“Once the Harry Potter books came out, there was a spike around the world in owls being kept as pets,” she said. “It is illegal in most parts of the world to do that. People would find little baby owlettes on the ground and take them home to keep as a pet. When they grow up, they realize they are like a flying cat with no manners. Next thing you know, they don’t want to keep it. There was a major intake of owls in wildlife rehabilitation centers.”

Wendy Perrone said Hoolie’s owners fed her hot dogs, hamburgers and other items just like in the wild – and pretty soon, she was malnourished.

“The biggest problem is one that doesn’t show at all,” Wendy Perrone said. “She associated her care, or imprinting, on humans – that cannot be unlearned. It’s not like being tame, which can be reversed. This is for life. Wildlife is wildlife. It is not living room life.”

Participants were introduced to Kendra, a red shouldered hawk; Nick, a red tailed hawk; and Regis, a bald eagle.

“Regis is 6 years old,” Wendy Perrone said. “He broke his wing in the wild and it healed wrong in the wild. We don’t know how that happened – when he was found, he was starving to death.”

She said the first nesting pair of eagles appeared in West Virginia in 1981.

“As of this past spring, we have more than 46 nests of bald eagles in the state,” she said. “They eat otter, muskrats, snakes and fish. Their diet is more water based.”

Three Rivers Avian Center is a private, nonprofit organization that was established in 1990. Their mission is twofold – to provide veterinary and rehabilitative care to West Virginia’s threatened wild birds and to educate and involve the public in ecosystem stewardship. Additional information is available by calling 304-466-4683.