Ancram turns out for talon show

08 16news Pg 1 Ancram Environment Program Owl

Sunny Bettley of the Audubon Center in Sharon, CT, shows off Herra, a saw-whet owl at the Ancram Town Hall Sunday, February 21. The center rehabilitates wildlife and the birds visited during the unveiling of the new Town Hall exhibit, “Ancram Field Notes: Conservation Past, Present and Future.” About 100 people turned out. Photo by David Lee

ANCRAM—The Town Hall finally got its wings Sunday afternoon, February 21.

The wings came attached to three living birds of prey: Bob the American kestrel, Mandala “Mandy” the red-­tailed hawk and Herra the northern saw-­whet owl, all of which live at the Audubon Center in Sharon, CT.

Back in 2003 after the then new Town Hall was completed, a committee was formed to come up with an idea for something to hang in the new building’s barren belfry. The committee eventually decided on a red-­tailed hawk sculpted from a sheet of copper, but for reasons of cost and execution the idea never took flight.

The occasion of the live birds’ visit to Town Hall was the official opening of the fourth and latest historic vestibule exhibit, Ancram Field Notes/Conservation: Past, Present and Future.

Every few months, artist and Ancram resident Lynne Perrella assembles a new comprehensive exhibit, each of which highlight some prominent aspect of town history, such as, quilting, the railroad and farming.

The Conservation exhibit features numerous photographs, many by Conservation Advisory Council member Choral Eddie, depicting the town’s numerous natural resources along with a display case of artifacts like nests, bones and bark.

The Town Hall was standing room only bursting with more than 100 people, as Sunny Bettley from the Audubon Center brought out, one at a time, each of the three winged-­visitors from their black box carriers of varying sizes.

A nature and wildlife rehabilitation center, Sharon Audubon is home to many birds, reptiles, bugs and hiking trails.The birds have had some encounter with humans (or their pets) that prevents them from ever living in the wild again, such as being hit by a car or attacked by a cat, Ms. Bettley said.

First to emerge was Bob the kestrel. He was so named because when he likes something, he bobs his head up and down to show his approval. About seven inches long, he had stunning slate-blue and deep rust markings. He is a completely healthy bird with just one problem, he was raised by humans, who found him as a chick after he fell from his nest. Good intentioned, these humans took him home, fed him and kept him safe until he grew up and then they set him loose.

But never having learned any wild bird behaviors like hunting, finding shelter or even communicating with others of his species, he was found emaciated “on death’s door,” and brought to the center.

Efforts to find him a girlfriend “did not work out well,” noted Ms. Bentley.

Kestrels like living in open wood-­ and swamp-­lands and eating small rodents, frogs and snakes.

But their favorites are dragonflies and grasshoppers and because the birds can hover like dragonflies they pluck them right out of the air.

Kestrels can see ultraviolet light and track rodents by following their urine trails. Also called sparrow hawks, their call is a high, piercing screech. Bob is about five years old and in captivity will live to be well over 20.

Mandy the red-­tailed hawk is a diurnal raptor, meaning she is out and about in the daytime.

Birds have no bladders, so when they have to go there’s no holding back, Ms. Bettley explained. When she brought the large bird out to meet the crowd it immediately relieved itself on the drop cloth Ms. Bettley had thoughtfully spread on the floor just in case.

Hawks depend heavily on their eyesight to look for rodents like mice, rats and squirrels. Their eyesight is so keen that “they could read a newspaper headline from across a football field,” said Ms. Bettley. Mandy came to the center in 1999 missing one eye. It is not known how it happened, a fight with another hawk, a failed mating ritual, a misguided landing in the woods, but her damaged eye had to be removed.

Also known as a chicken hawk, red-tails have gotten a bad rap on that front, said Ms. Bettley. Though they might take a chicken once in a while, they are far more interested in the rodents, which eat the chicken’s feed.

Eighty-­five percent of the red-­tails born each year will not survive until their second year.

Sometimes the center will overwinter these youngsters to give them a better chance at survival.

Though a large and imposing bird almost two-­feet in length, Mandy is somewhere between 15 and 20 years old and weighs a mere three ­pounds, owing to her hollow bones. Birds have no teeth and their beaks and talons are like human fingernails, made of carotene, Ms. Bettley noted.

As impressive as Bob and Mandy were, the star of the show was Herra, the diminutive, bright-
eyed saw-­whet owl, who captivated the audience as she moved around the packed hall perched on Ms. Bettley’s forearm.

Herra is a nocturnal raptor, who hunts at night. Contributing to this talent are silent feathers. Ms. Bettley brought out examples of bird feathers, demonstrating that even if you wave an owl feather fluttering furiously near your ear, you won’t hear a sound. But they can hear everything.

Herra was hit by a car while swooping down to pick up some manner of prey along a road. The impact damaged one side of her head making it hard for her to keep her beak closed.

In the daytime, saw-­whet owls are cavity nesters and are not detectible thanks to their striped

After the birds headed home, Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) Chair Jamie Purinton gave a presentation about Ancram’s Natural Resources Conservation Plan. She drew people in by showing them how to assess the resources around the Town Hall and in their own backyards.

A presentation on invasive species: plants, animals and microbes was delivered by Colleen Lutz, a CAC advisor. She gave examples of invasives like the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorn beetle, hemlock wooly adelgid, Eurasian milfoil, water chestnut and garlic mustard and told many facts about them including how they got here.

The afternoon concluded with a musical slide presentation by Ancram photographer B. Docktor featuring inspiring area landscapes and children.

To contact Diane Valden email

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