Mountsberg Raptor Centre a world of hawks, owls, and eagles
Bob and I do not profess to be expert bird watchers, but when we sighted our first ever owl, a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, a fire was lit within us. To learn more about raptors in general, we decided to take a drive out to Campbellville, to the Mountsberg Raptor Centre, in Ontario.
Set within the Mountsberg Conservation Area, the Raptor Centre is unique in that it is home to 15 species of native birds belonging to the raptor family, and all of them were at one time either permanently injured or maimed. Because of their disabilities, the birds cannot be legally released back into the wild as they would be unable to survive on their own. The Mountsberg Raptor Centre serves as their home…a safe place to live out their lives while serving an important purpose.
Included in the price of admission to the conservation area is a free information session with one of the Raptor Centre’s knowledgeable interpreters. On the extremely warm March day that we visited, the demonstration took place outdoors.
When not participating in one of the information sessions, some of the birds of prey reside in outdoor enclosures, but here we see a beautiful specimen of Bald Eagle enjoying the great outdoors without a protective roof over its head. This female is tethered to a perch from which she has quite a range of movement. A poorly healed broken bone in her left wing prevents normal flying.
The impressive wings of a bald eagle can achieve a total width of between 6 and 7.5 feet.
Because Bob and I wanted to glean as much information as possible from the interpreters, we opted to pay an extra fee for a behind-the-scenes look at the operation of the Raptor Centre. This inside look included a hands-on session with one of the birds of prey. Bob is holding an Eastern Screech Owl under the watchful eye of Sandra.
Echo is the name of this adorable Eastern Screech Owl. She ended up at Mountsberg Raptor Centre because her nest tree was cut down, and she was the only chick to survive. After being raised at an alternate facility, Echo was transferred to her present home.
Sandra first demonstrated the proper method of securing the tether in my hand so the little Screech Owl could not injure itself.
For this nose-to-beak experience, Bob and I entered into a closed room to ensure the safety of the bird should it escape our grasp.
Our behind-the-scenes encounter provided Bob and I good opportunities to practice our photographic skills.
Next, Sandra led us to the enclosure where Nahanni is housed. She is a Gyrfalcon, the largest species of falcon in the world.
Sandra opened Nahanni’s enclosure in order to present her with a fresh rodent, while Bob and I were allowed to closely observe as Nahanni tore eagerly into the proffered food.
Bob and I were very excited to get this close to a Red-tailed Hawk. Last fall, we had captured images of a Red-tailed Hawk in the wild, but this rare opportunity to see its plumage at close range enabled us to really study the markings.
With our behind-the-scenes encounter complete, Bob and I expressed appreciation to Sandra and Lara for their insight into the behaviors and lives of the birds of prey in their care. Both women have a wealth of information to share with interested visitors, all in an effort to better educate the public on how the actions of humans impact the wildlife around us.
Left to our own devices, Bob and I then circulated amongst the various enclosures along the Wildlife Walkway of the Raptor Centre. We were surprised to find that 33 different birds of prey are given a home there. We have yet to sight any Rough-legged Hawks in the wild, but seeing them in such close proximity, we hope will help us to identify any such hawks whenever we do come across some.
These two Rough-legged Hawks, Jane and John, were hit by cars when hunting along the side of a road, and in both of their cases, parts of a wing had to be amputated.
Here, we have Chomper, a Great Horned Owl. Bob and I would be thrilled to get such closeup pictures of one of these owls in the wild. We have captured photographs of a Great Horned Owl, but it was perched in the top of a very high pine tree in Thickson’s Woods in Whitby.
As you see first hand in our video, the tufts of the Great Horned Owl are very prominent on its head giving the owl a haughty countenance.
Together with the all-knowing look in the eye, the Great Horned Owl truly exemplifies the common saying “wise as an owl”.
Another bird to capture our interest was this American Kestrel because we had just seen one in our own backyard that same morning. Each of the kestrels at the Raptor Centre has been named by the staff, who can tell visitors the circumstances by which the birds arrived there.
All of the birds at the Raptor Centre seemed to endure well the attention of the streams of visitors passing by. Many of the birds are human imprinted which means that they do not know the ways of their own kind, but are more comfortable with people. That is the reason for many of them being at the Raptor Centre in the first place.
This past winter, Bob and I actually had occasion to see a Snowy Owl in the wild. A member of the species was wintering at Frenchman’s Bay, and afforded many birders the chance for observation, albeit at a great distance. Once again, we were thankful for the chance to see a Snowy Owl this near to us so we could get an appreciation for its size. They are not as large as one would think.
Here is one owl that I do not expect I will ever see in its natural habitat…a Barn Owl. I was blown away by the unique colour of its plumage.
A second Barn Owl was presently being kept in a cage indoors.
The impressive size of this Golden Eagle made me realize why these birds can take prey as large as a bear cub in some instances. The sun shining on the nape of its neck served to highlight the golden feathers that lend the eagle its name.
These fierce talons would hold secure any prey found within their grasp. Golden Eagles have legs that are fully feathered completely to the toes, whereas the legs of Bald Eagles are only partly feathered.
What a beautiful bird!
Ayasha is a female Golden Eagle that commands her space. Although these types of eagles are usually rare in eastern Canada, my dad saw one at Oxtongue Lake a year ago. These birds are unmistakeable.
In an enclosure next to Ayasha are two male Bald Eagles, Phoenix and Cornelius. The majesty of these birds goes without saying. I am very thankful that the Raptor Centre is working so hard to educate people about the birds of prey that share our environment. Anything that can be done to protect our native wildlife will go a long ways towards enriching our own lives.
If you would like more details on the Mountsberg Raptor Center, visit their website.