Around the Island

Owls, eagle sighting at library

Spreading its wings for the crowd under the tent at the Shelter Island Library is a great horned owl.

A program took flight last week under the tent at the Shelter Island Library as an expert from the Quogue Wildlife Refuge brought birds of prey here. Despite soaring temperatures, children, parents and grandparents were delighted.

The library was well prepared on July 17 to deal with the sweltering heat under the tent, providing frozen fruit pops and ice water to cool down the crowd.

The birds had been brought to the Island in an air-conditioned vehicle. In cages for the presentation, they were shuttled right back to the vehicle at the end of the program and air conditioning had been left on so the vehicle remained cold, according to environmental educator Renee Allen.

Ms. Allen said she always knew she wanted to work with animals. When she graduated from high school, a temporary job was opened up to her at the wildlife refuge. That was 12 years ago, and while she continued to pursue her studies, she was also able to work at the refuge.

The refuge takes in birds that have either been injured permanently and can’t be cared for outside of a facility, or those that owners have had to abandon because they became too difficult to handle.

The birds’ talons and beaks are weapons, and handling them must be done with thick gloves, she told the audience. But most importantly, the birds must be kept calm and quiet. Accordingly, as she walked through the audience to give people a closer look at the three birds, she told them not to reach out or make any sudden movements that might bring out some wild instincts.

Environmental educator Renee Allen shows off a red-tailed hawk.

An Eastern screech owl, appearing fairly small for a bird of prey, was the first to emerge. The screech owl is a native to these parts. This particular bird lost sight in one eye, robbing it of its depth perception and landing it at the wildlife refuge.

Ms. Allen told her audience that birds have no bladders and don’t store wastes in their bodies because they would be unable to fly carrying the excess weight.

A great horned owl made his appearance, and while he only weighs in at 2.5 pounds, his size and thick feathers had people guessing that he weighed much more. Great horned owls can’t turn their eyes in various directions, so must turn their heads to glance sideways, Ms. Allen said.

They are among the top winged predators, swooping down on snakes, skunks, mice, raccoons and even have been known to scoop up family pets. 

The last visitor was a red-tailed hawk,which tends to fly high and attacks its prey on the ground. This one was found on a roadside in Riverhead and had a permanently injured wing that droops, making it impossible to fly. 

The Quogue Wildlife Refuge, located at 3 Old Country Road in Quogue, is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and its Nature Center is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The public is invited to visit the site and learn about the many birds that inhabit 305 acres of protected land.

The relatively small Eastern screech owl takes a bow.