Birds of prey showcased at town hall

MILFORD – The five birds in the Town Hall banquet room last week were treated like celebri­ties.

Cameras flashed and people oohed and aahed as Jim Parks re­moved each one from its carrier and carried it around the room.

Parks is a licensed raptor re­habilitator, and each bird of prey had some kind of injury prevent­ing it from being released back into the wild. But from a seat in the audience, each one looked perfect – and one, a little saw-whet owl, perfectly adorable.

Parks is half of Wingmasters, based in western Massachusetts. The 7-acre licensed facility cares for injured North American birds of prey, and is dedicated to in­creasing public understanding and appreciation of them.

Most of the birds that Parks and his partner, Julie Anne Collier, rehabilitate can ultimately be re­leased back into the wild, he said, but in some cases, the birds are left permanently handicapped. Wing­masters is further licensed to use its nonreleasable raptors for edu­cational programs, such as the one in Milford on Thursday, Aug. 11.

"Every bird here is found in Milford," Parks said.

But he said seeing them up close, in the wild, is nearly impos­sible. Their remarkable vision lets them keep their distance from humans and their prey, allowing them to see a deer mouse, for ex­ample, up to 1 mile away.

The first bird to come out of its carrier was an American kestrel, or sparrow hawk as it used to be called, though its diet is usually insects and small mammals. One of the world’s fastest birds, it can gather its feathers together and dive up to 200 mph.

The birds "understand the higher you get, the faster you fall," and their aim is to fly under a flying bird," Parks said.

That’s an incredibly difficult feat, but one that the bird has the confidence to do.

"She doesn’t know she weighs only 6 ounces," Parks said. "As far as she’s concerned, she’s the world’s largest bird."

In the coming years, the kestrel will be added to the federal list of endangered species because it has a problem adapting to human development and requires "many acres of open fields," Parks said.

The next bird to leave its car­rier was a 30-year-old red-tailed hawk. This species won’t go extinct anytime soon, he said – there are more now then ever before – because its diet is most­ly trash and rodents.

And these hawks, which weigh about 21/2 pounds in adulthood, also punch above their weight. One of them, Parks said, was observed trying to pick up a 14-pound groundhog – when the bird was only 3 months old.

A barred owl and a great horned owl came next.

The barred owl is "patheti­cally imprinted" on humans, and "she speaks to me. She doesn’t know she’s a bird," Parks said.

The great horned owl had to be rescued twice after its hunt­ing expeditions rewarded it with porcupine quills.

Great horned owls will hunt fox and skunk, and one was "ob­served successfully hunting a fisher," said Parks, who held up a taxidermied fisher in one hand and the great horned owl in the other to show the size difference.

The Wingmasters program was held in Town Hall and spon­sored by the Wadleigh Memorial Library. More about Wingmas­ters and North American birds of prey can be found at www. wingmasters.net.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.