Excitement mingles with a bit of humor when The Avian Conservation Center: Birds of Prey Director of Education Stephen Schabel says a new member of the educational team will be introduced at the special, advanced ticketed public event on October 24th. A scientist? A medical expert? A volunteer? No, not a person. The new team member is a tiny owl, but Schabel will give no more details to ensure a surprise at the upcoming Mysterious Lives of Owls special focus day.
The Avian Conservation Center opened as a medical clinic for birds about 30 years ago. Ten years later, public education had been added to its mission integrated with an on-site avian population. In 2008 the facility opened to the public. Over time its SC Oiled Bird Response Facility was developed.
Today, 50 species of birds inhabiting the center include hawks, falcons, kites, vultures, and eagles, and there are 15 different types of owls within a total population of 40 owls. It is the largest center of its kind in the Southeast.
Among the owls, the largest is the Eurasian Eagle Owl, a giant orange eyed relative of North America's Great Horned Owl. One of the most popular with visitors is the Ural Owl, a large, white and grey owl found in the snowy mountains of northern Europe. Some of the smaller owls include the Eastern Screech Owl and the Burrowing Owl, two of the smallest North American Owls. A popular bit of information about owls is that they can turn their heads 360 degrees (270 degrees in each direction. Also, not unique to owls, this is an avian adaptation). Described in children's books as being most active at night? Is this true? What do they eat? Do they sleep? How long do they live? All these questions will be answered at the special upcoming owl event, says Schabel. What he finds most interesting about owls is how diverse they are. There are owls living in just about every landscape on our planet from the desert to the arctic tundra. Some are tiny (less than 100 grams) and some weigh six or seven pounds.
Ensuring bird safety? "People have to think about how their activities impact the other organisms we share the planet with. Everything we do has an impact and if we focus on maximizing our positive impacts on our environment and minimizing and mitigating for the negative ones, everyone will be better off in the end," says Schabel. He earned a M.S. degree in Environmental Policy at the College of Charleston. Joining the Conservation Center as Director of Education 18 years ago, he is now one of ten specialized staff members.
The birds have arrived at The Avian Conservation Center in different ways. Some were bred for education and hatched at the Center. Others were acquired from around the United States. Some others arrived from Europe by plane, were quarantined in NYS and then transported to the Charleston area. Some of the most extraordinary are the Asian Brown Wood Owl, the Zone Taikled Hawk and the Yellow Billed Kite. Are there any endangered species? The Center's educational collection also features several endangered species from around the world including the Swallow-tailed Kite (North America), the Saker Falcon (Asia), and the Short Tailed Hawk (North America).
The priority in the Center's Avian Medical Clinic is to treat injured birds and release them to the wild if possible. And, in addition, to make the public aware that most injuries to birds are caused by humans. Owls, for example, become sick if they eat rodents poisoned with anti-coagulant rodenticides such as D-Con. They are most often hurt by collisions with vehicles, windows and power lines. About 1000 birds are treated at the Center each year. So, this program on owls, like programs on other types of birds, always focuses on prevention measures to avoid activities that potentially could cause harm.
Owls along with many other types of birds are described in fiction, in poetry and found in paintings. Photographers also want to capture their beauty and movement close up as well as in flight. Recognizing the intensity of this interest, The Avian Conservation Center welcomes a limited number of photographers on its special Photography Days. The program is open to amateurs, professionals - basically anyone who has an interest in photographing birds as they fly through the sky, alight on branches or simply walk on the ground. Schabel explains that birds are trained for flight demos on the grounds of the 152 acre Conservancy grounds. How are they trained? "We utilize a variety of techniques that can all be lumped into the category of ‘operant conditioning’ with positive reinforcement. Essentially, we wait for the animals to offer certain natural behaviors and then reward them. Ultimately, the birds associate certain behaviors with rewards and thus they offer them more frequently and even on cue," says Schabel. "We do this event several times every year. It's hugely successful." This year Photography Days are offered as three-hour events on Saturday October 18 and Saturday, November 15 beginning at 8:30am.
In addition to these special focus weekend events, the Avian Center reopened after a COVID pause and is now welcoming the public twice a week.
For more information, visit https://www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org