For the love of Raptors

8 July 2022

Good Morning Everyone!

For a couple of months now I have been hoping to give a brief shout out to the amazing wildlife rehabilitation centres that provide the raptors (and other species) with a second chance at life. One recent patient was our beloved Little Bit ND17 that was taken for care at Humane Wildlife Indiana. Each of us knows how important the individuals are that pick up, transport, and care for our raptors.

Today, however, I want to focus a moment on the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida. A quote used yesterday by Margaret Mead that came from the book Malena and Klepetan. A Love Story on Wings is once again appropriate.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Before there was a Centre for Birds of Prey in Florida, there was the Audubon Society. The year was 1886 -136 years ago. George Bird Grinnell, editor of Field and Stream, decided it was time to try and unite all people interested in protecting birds. He made an appeal in the magazine and by 1887, he had received positive responses from 39,000 people who joined the new Audubon Society. Unfortunately, the adventure was so successful that he magazine staff could not keep up with the demand! In 1896, Mrs Augustus Hemenway from Boston founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society. What was it that made Mrs Hemenway so angry that she set about trying to fine ways to protect the birds? The wholesale slaughter of birds of prey for their plumage used in hats. Florida was the state that supplied the overwhelming majority of hat plumes and, as a result, the beautiful raptors became very scarce. The Audubon Society worked tirelessly to get state laws passed that would outlaw the killing of birds for plumage. Hand in hand with the lobbying for legislation to protect birds was education. It was deemed important to educate the public – young and old – on the value of birds to our lives and the need to do as much as we can to protect them.

A full history of the early decades of the Audubon Society can be found hre:

https://fl.audubon.org/about-us/history

In 1900, fifteen wealthy and influential individuals met at the Maitland estate of Clara Dommerich to discuss how they could stop the wanton death Florida’s raptors. The fact that the killing of the birds so that their feathers could adorn hats of the rich and famous drove the small group to form the Florida Audubon Society. The Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey would evolve and become a driving force in the care and rehabilitation of injured raptors. Here is a wonderful article – and I would ask you to note that the portrait of Marie Antoinette shows her wearing a hat with plumes. The plumes also appeared on military hats and clothing.

The Rt. Reverend Henry B. Whipple, the first President of the Florida Audubon Society said, “Many of these beautiful creatures are no longer to be found, unless in the Everglades. The murderous work of extermination has been carried on by vandals, incited by the cupidity of traders who minister to the pride of thoughtless people.” The feather industry in 1900 employed 83,000 people with an income of 17 million US dollars. Taking into account 2.95 % inflation, “…$17000000 in 1900 is equivalent to $591551428.57 today.” That is hard to grapple with – 599 billion dollars. That is a huge industry and the fifteen people meeting to form the Florida Audubon Society must have known they had their work cut out for them if they were to succeed. People were murdered. The killing of all birds but game birds was outlawed in 1901 in Florida. It was a meagre beginning as so many birds were left off the list including “hawks, crows, owls, shorebirds, ducks, pigeons, butcherbirds, meadowlarks and robins.”

In 1903, US President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt stated, “I do not understand how any man or woman who really loves nature can fail to try to exert all influence in support of such objects as those of the Audubon Society.” Roosevelt was active in trying to create areas where the wildlife could be protected. This includes Pelican Island along with 230 million acres for wildlife refuges, forests, and parks.

The subject of this blog is the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey that opened on the 19th of October 1979. Their mission is “the rescue, medical treatment, rehabilitation and release of Florida’s raptors.” Their statistics are enviable. Since their founding they have rehabilitated more than 600 Bald Eagles who were successfully released into the wild. they are also active in education and research.

Here is more information on the Centre and what they do to enrich, protect, and preserve birds of prey in Florida: https://cbop.audubon.org/

How many reading my blog today recognize the name ‘Smedley’? On 7 June 1998, Smedley, an Osprey nestling, was admitted to the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey. Smedley had fallen out of his nest. As a result, his right wing was broken. The Audubon Centre gave Smedley a second chance by keeping him as one of the raptor ambassadors.

For those who love Ospreys you have probably heard that Ospreys do not do well in care. Smedley spent 24 years at the Audubon Centre from the time he was a nestling. He could not fly and the slumping of his right wing needed attention. In addition, he had imprinted on humans and could not live in the wild.

In May, Smedley’s wing began to droop more. The staff at the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey designed and made a harness for him. The wing continued to get worse with the harness and then a sling working for awhile. Then Smedley began flipping on his back and he was not able to right himself without human help. His mouth and eyes would get full of sand (the material you can see in Smedley’s enclosure. The issues continued to worsen and the staff at the centre “decided as a group that we need to let Smedley go so he can fly free in a different life and end the hardship this life has become.” They did not, of course, take that decision lightly. It was also decided that the week prior, Smedley would enjoy the most delicious fish meals. On 24 May 2022, Smedley was released from his suffering so that his spirit could soar. I want to thank ‘L’ for this information and for the picture of Smedley above – the last image of this beautiful Osprey, Smedley.

Since 2017, Smedley had a companion named Bailey sharing his enclosure and being his friend. Bailey arrived at the Centre from Hog Island, Maine, where she had sustained a broken right wing due to a Great Horned Owl Attack (GHOW). She was then attacked by wasps and eagles. Poor thing. She is the only surviving osplet of Rachel and Steve at Hog Island in 2017. Her other siblings were taken by a GHOW. Bailey thwarted the attack of the owl only to be stung so badly by wasps that she leapt out of her nest prematurely. A platform was built for Bailey and then she was attacked by Bald Eagles. She did eventually fledge on her own but she sustained wounds and did her own migration in style (via jet airplane) to Florida to the Audubon Centre in November 2017.

Hank is a ‘glove trained’ Osprey at the Centre. Oh, isn’t he gorgeous. Hank came to the Centre from Biscayne Bay as a nestling in 2017. Several attempts were made to return him to his nest but, they always failed because the adults did not return to care for their chick.

The goal of every wildlife rehabilitation centre is to release the birds back into the wild so they can live their lives. If for any reason they cannot be released, then the focus is to provide the best life the Centre can provide or at another place around the country – full of quality care, interaction, and enrichment.

Other ambassadors include Frank (Francis), the Bald Eagle, named after St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint and Protector of all Animals. Frank came to the Centre for Birds of Prey in 1991. He has continual issues with his eyes and his respiration. As a glove trained eagle, Francis is a great ambassador for the centre and his species.

A beautiful hawk mantling its food. ‘L’ says that this Cooper’s Hawk has a svelte body until he puffs up to protect his food.” The army of people that help the raptors at the Centre for Birds of prey work very hard making sure that the birds get the food and calories required so that they stay in top form even though they cannot be released. Such a cutie. Check out their website for the stories of the other 37 ambassador birds.

The staff and volunteers also observe the non-releasable birds, the ambassadors, closely making sure that they have the type of enclosure that is best for them. Here is a great short article on how they do this:

https://fl.audubon.org/news/new-enclosure-project-helps-ambassador-birds-while-fostering-next-generation-avian-scientists

The Centre and the staff educate people on the damage that humans have done to the environment of the raptors. ‘L’ said, “We irrigate/drain land for cultivation and crops which is the death knoll for black storks and other wildlife that relay on the water flooded areas in Europe.  Living in Florida, I am so fortunate to see Swallow Tailed Kites as they migrate here for breeding….but we’ve removed their nesting sites for development too. You used to be able to see them as far north as North Carolina. Not anymore….they struggle in Florida for nesting sites.” As ‘L’ mentioned I am well-versed on the destruction and outright extinction of birds of prey in the United Kingdom and the great effort now made to restore those species.

The clinics rely on the love and hard work of an army of volunteers along with donations for vital supplies, medicines, and buildings to teach the raptors how to fly and hunt prey. No one is getting rich! It is, indeed, done for the love of raptors.

I want to thank ‘L’ who provided me with the last image of Smedley and some of the other raptors that she cares for at the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey. ‘L’ is dedicated to making their lives enriched and to helping us understand how important raptors are – how we are destroying their environment by the hour and what we might do to mitigate that destruction. Thank you ‘L’ for all you and the team do at the Audubon Centre for Birds of Prey do for our beautiful birds.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I will have a round up of nest activity this evening. Take care. See you soon!

7 Comments

  1. Linda Kontol says:

    Wow! This helped make my day ! Thanks Mary Ann! I remember Smedley and Bailey very well. I was so sorry about Smedley. He and Bailey were great friends and shared a home together.
    Because of what all happened to Bailey and because she was Rachel and Steve’s that survived the GHO attack she has always been so special to me. Especially since Rachel never returned from her migration for two seasons as she had an injured foot /leg. I miss her so much.
    All the raptors are beautiful at the Audubon center. Thanks for their info and photos. Thanks to all who do such a great job there !
    We will look forward to this evenings newsletter.
    Take care and have a Good Friday afternoon !
    Linda

    1. Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed that blog, Linda. It seems everyone loves Smedley. I think they are looking for a partner for Bailey now. If you are a bird that winds up at Audubon you will have a wonderful life – with toys!

  2. Lisa says:

    Thank you MaryAnn…..this truly makes me appreciate how you recognize the selfless acts of so many. You nailed it…..

    1. Oh, thank you, Lisa. I realized after putting a lot of ‘data’ that it did not get to the ‘hearts’ that make these rehab centres and life time placements what they are – love. Thank you for all you do. It is appreciated.

      1. Lisa says:

        Many, many people read your blog and don’t always react (I didn’t know about the hearts until you mentioned them lol). So I know many have read this and all of your updates. Never underestimate the silent majority….many are silent but incredibly passionate.

      2. Oh, Lisa, I love the silent majority. They are the people who normally get things done!!!!!! And I am blessed with the most wonderful people who read my blog and send me notes and become friends – in common we love birds and in particular big birds of prey! It is my joy. Thank you.

  3. Evelyna Peper says:

    I love this side and your wonderful work.
    I am one of your silent watchers every day , you are blessed.
    I make donations to help where I can ,because I can and want to.
    warm greetings from Hamburg Evelyna

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