By Sharon Challenger.
(March 3, 2020) — Monday morning was full of promise. If the weather was mild, I was going to get a tour of A Place Called Hope (APCH), a Rehabilitation and Education Center for Birds of Prey, in Killingworth, CT. As luck had it, the sun was shining brightly, and the temps were in the upper 40’s which is pretty good for a February morning in Connecticut.
As I approached the grounds I was struck by the openness of the property. Nestled on roughly ten acres of land, there are two long separate aviary buildings and a newly created Medical building where birds can recover from injuries in a quieter setting. Two of the aviaries are suitable for Bald Eagles. A courtyard between the two aviaries is a favorite spot for a Black Vulture couple who have claimed the place for themselves. If other vultures try to drop in, they are quickly sent packing! I noticed several Black Vultures perched in the trees surrounding the property. They all seemed quite content to be amongst other “birds of a feather.”
Before paying a visit to the birds in residence, I sat down with President Christine Cummings, Co-Founder/Treasurer, Todd Secki, and VP, Grace Krick, to learn more about A Place Called Hope. I was curious to know what sort of tasks they had to accomplish daily.
One important and upcoming task is to “re-nest” Great Horned Owl chicks (late March) when they fall out of their nest. The Great Horned Owl adopts nests of other birds, or they use ledges, or cavities in live trees. When the chicks outgrow the nest, they often fall to the ground, so it is crucial to “re-nest” them quickly if they are to survive. It is important that they learn their survival skills from their parents. Sadly 80% do not survive.
I was stunned to learn that ninety-eight percent of bird deaths are caused by humans, other animals, poisons, or harsh winters. Birds often are injured by car collisions or flying into windows. A good tip to know is that UV Poster Paint is a solution to preventing window collisions. Many birds see in the ultraviolet light spectrum, the glow helps them recognize something solid is there.
Recently a female Bald Eagle was struck by a tractor trailer on I-95. A shocking video of the accident blanketed the news and social media outlets. Knowing that A Place Called Hope was involved in the rescue of the bird, I was curious to know how things had turned out. I was pleased to learn that she recovered and was recently released. However, when she returned to her nest, she found that another female had claimed her nest and her mate. The two fought for the nest, but due to her injuries, she was not strong enough to win the battle. She has since flown off to find another mate, but unfortunately, it is too late in the season for her to have any chicks this year.
The Bald Eagle has had a long and rocky road to recovering its numbers. Loss of habitat, along with the improper use of DDT led to the near extinction of the bird. From 1950 – 1992 there were no Bald Eagle nests to be found in Connecticut. However, in 1992 Connecticut’s first nesting pair was spotted. In 2019 fourteen new territories were established, and there were forty-five active nests producing eighty-one chicks!
My tour began with the aviaries along the left side of the property. The buildings were constructed by Todd Secki and are quite impressive. Once inside I was introduced to Loki, a strikingly beautiful raven. Loki was illegally raised by a human, so she imprinted on the wrong species. She adores Todd, and thinks he is her sweetheart. It was quite humorous to see her flirting with him as he gave her some peanuts to munch on. As we walked on, I turned to look back at her and was amused to see her busily cracking open her treats.
The individual aviary rooms in both buildings house a variety of birds of prey. One aviary housed a Turkey Vulture and a Black Vulture. I have often seen Turkey Vultures devouring dead animals along our roadsides. Their size along with their bright red heads make them quite easy to see. However, before I arrived at APCH, I was unaware that Black Vultures existed. While Christine was explaining the habits of the birds, the Turkey Vulture graciously spread its wings before me. I was stunned to see that the feathers on the underside are silvery in color. The Black Vulture does not have the same markings, but instead displays white wings tips called “Stars” on the underside of its wings.
Other resident birds include the American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcons, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, Barred Owls, Red Shouldered Hawks, and Enapai, the Bald Eagle who took a moment to bow to us. Christine bowed back and explained that “In Eagle language, a bow is the body language which implies, I see you… I am aware of your presence; I mean you no harm.” This reminded me of the Hindi greeting of “Namaste,” which literally means “I bow to you,” and it is a way of showing that your divine soul recognizes the divine soul in another.
Enapai has been a resident at since 2015. He tragically suffered wing tip damage after crashing into the Mississippi River in Wever, Iowa. Due to his injuries, he cannot grow flight feathers which prevents him from being released into the wild. As we approached the aviary where Enapai resides, I was surprised to see he shares the space with a Black Vulture by the name of Onyx. Two very different birds in many aspects, living together, was not something I expected to see. It’s a reminder and a good lesson for us to take in, our friends don’t have to look, and act just like us.
Our next stop on the tour was the Medical Building which Todd recently refurbished from an old watershed. The building sits in a peaceful setting along a small river which flows gently by. It houses birds who have recently undergone surgery or need a quieter space where they can recover from injuries. It is a “shelter from the storm” space, so to speak. Individual cages line the walls, and each are covered to help keep the birds calm and out of drafts.
While the main goal of APCH is to rescue birds who have suffered accidents, their desire is to nurse the birds back to health and release them back into the wild. Sometimes this is not possible, however. Some accidents leave the birds permanently handicapped. Two of the owls I saw had been injured. One lost an eye and the other was totally blind. Others have lost the ability to fly due to their injuries. In cases such as these, APCH becomes a haven for them to live out the remainder of their lives. Their becoming handicapped does not stop them from sharing their gifts, however. Depending on their disposition, they may take on a new role, they can become teachers. APCH has been given special permission from US Fish and Wildlife, to house and train birds to become part of their educational programs. Programs include, “Meet and Greets,” where audience members can ask questions about the birds being presented, “Storytime” for children, programs about Owls, and one which compares the styles of hunting in the different species.
As my tour came to an end, I was eager to know how others may contribute to the work that A Place Called Hope does. Their website lists several ways people can assist them in meeting the needs of the birds. There are options to donate directly, adopt a bird, provide food, building supplies, electric water bowls, medicine, and more.
Some of their upcoming events are as follows:
March 10, 2020 — Join APCH for an Eagle Presentation hosted by The Madison Scranton Library on Tuesday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church 26 Meeting House Lane Madison. Space will be limited.
April 4, 2020 EARTH DAY Event — Meet APCH Ambassador Birds at the North Haven Conservation Commission Festival on April 4 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. located at the North Haven High School, 221 Elm Street North Haven.
Photos by Todd Secki, Spirit Hawk Photography and A Place Called Hope.