Thursday, 30 April 2020 10:28

Guardians of the Sky

By Megin Potter | News

From high above us, they listen for their prey, swooping and soaring in elegant lines through the sky, focused on their next meal. Some birds – even owls - will fly right into your vehicle looking for a meal.

Whether in need of rehabilitation due to an accident, habitat loss, disease, or unintentionally ingesting poisonous substances, we can thank people like wildlife rehabilitator Trish Marki for their safe return. 

Marki has been caring for animals for as long as she can remember.

“I always had animals. I had everything from mice to horses,” she said. 

Up Close Encounters

Then, 15 years ago, Marki found a grey-horned owl with a clenched foot. She applied for it to become an educational bird, and named her Virginia. 

She’s among a family of raptors that Marki takes to schools, nonprofit groups, and wildlife events as part of the Silent Wings Raptor Rehab and Education program of the Wildlife Institute of Eastern New York. Conducting approximately 200 programs each year, she travels as far as Princeton University with her birds (which include owls, hawks, a falcon and a raven). 

“Working with these magnificent creatures is an honor, I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do it every day and I only hope that I can inspire others to take an interest in them, as well as other wildlife, through our encounters.” 

Understanding Animals

Working with these impressive birds takes a unique combination of compassion, knowledge, intuitiveness, and bravery.

Marki has been injured many times while learning how to care for these animals. Some, like the Red-Tailed Hawk, can be territorial, becoming quite vocal when a stranger approaches. The barred owl has a forceful grip, but it’s the eagle’s talons that are the strongest and possibly the most dangerous. 

Fed a menu of frozen mice, rats, or chicks once a day in the late afternoon, food can also be used as an incentive to train some of the birds. For others, instead of food, motivation comes in another form.

“While hawks and falcons can be trained using food as an enticement, most owls would rather starve than do “tricks” for a “treat.”  They are just not as food motivated.  I have developed an understanding with Wyatt and he will happily fly above a crowded room of onlookers and head straight for his perch,” said Marki.

Naturally Wild

Wyatt, an Eurasian Eagle Owl, came to Marki 10 years ago when he was young, so he’s “imprinted,” meaning that he identifies with her as his caretaker. 

“We have a very close bond. He talks to me. He can sense when I’m near,” she said. 

Owls like these cannot be released into the wild, but the other birds that Marki helps to rehabilitate have been.

“In an effort to not imprint birds that will be returned to the wild we are careful to just feed them, and handle them as little as possible. We’ll put a mirror or a feather duster in their enclosure for them to nestle up against if we don’t have more than one, or an adult to foster them. Being wild is inherent in them, and it comes out,” she said. 

Protecting Birds of Prey

Through the work of wildlife rehabilitators like Marki, the banning of the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, and raising awareness in the public, eagles are no longer listed as an endangered species. 

There are still a number of challenges when it comes to keeping these birds soaring however, including the misconception that large raptors will snatch up babies or small children. 

“There was a video on the internet of an eagle picking up a baby – it was fabricated. It doesn’t happen,” said Marki.

Learning more about these amazing animals is vital to their survival. 

In Case of Emergency

To preserve the numbers of all kinds of beautiful birds in our skies, it’s important that you know what to do if you come across a sick or injured bird.

If you find a raptor in distress and unable to fly, place a box over it, weigh it down with a rock and wait for a wildlife expert to arrive.

For help locally, call the North Country Wild Care Hotline at 518-964-6740. To report a wildlife emergency anywhere in the country, visit Animal Help Now at ahnow.org.

Mark Your Calendar: The 10th Annual Raptor Fest will be held at the Washington County Fairgrounds, 392 Old Schuylerville Road, in Greenwich on May 16th & 17th. For more information on scheduling a program with the live birds of prey for your group, go to SilentWingsRaptors.org

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