Enraptured by Raptors
Birds of prey captivate onlookers of all ages
Raptors commanded rapt attention Saturday morning as around 150 people stopped by the bike path at Belle Haven Park to marvel at these birds of prey. Some people lingered, bedazzled, for two hours.
Kent Knowles and Gabby Hrycyshuyn of the Raptor Conservancy displayed a barred owl, Eastern screech owl, peregrine falcon-merlin hybrid, red-shouldered hawk and red-tailed hawk, birds they had rehabilitated from injuries. The Conservancy gets around 240 orphaned and injured birds a year, nurses them and releases around half of the adults and 95 percent of chicks. The rest cannot survive on their own in the wild because of their handicaps so Knowles finds them a home.
Many of the birds arrive with broken and crushed bones and injured eyes. Humans are mostly to blame, Knowles said. Many raptors are hit by cars or slam into buildings, especially windows. “They’ve done nothing wrong,” said Hrycyshyn. “We owe it to them to help them.”
A steady stream of curious visitors of all ages, including runners, walkers and bikers passing by, stopped by to ooh and ah over the birds.
“This is great,” exuded Emily Fairbanks who walked over from Belle View. “The screech owl just blinked one eye!”
“He looks very scruffy,” commented Dorothy McManus of Huntington. Hrycyshyn replied that the owl was molting.
The owl pivoted its neck almost 360 degrees to preen its upper back. “Their eyes are fixed; they have no peripheral vision,” Hrycyshuyn explained, so their necks are adapted to help them see in all directions.
Raptors are characterized by a hooked beak with sharp cutting edges and curved at the tip. Meat eaters, they catch live prey with their sharp talons. Eagles and ospreys, for example, grasp fish out of the water. The word “raptor” is from the Latin word rapere, meaning “to seize.”
Knowles told onlookers that peregrine falcons are the “fastest creatures on Earth.” With their long pointed wings, they can scoop down and whack a duck mid-air at 150 miles per hour.
Alex Blanco-Losada, age 14, came from Annandale with his father because he “really likes falcons,” he remarked.
Red-tailed hawks are in every state except Hawaii, Knowles told the crowd.
Someone found the red-tail, perched politely on Knowles’s gloved hand, tangled in brush at the Stafford County Airport. Calling the hawk a “linebacker” because of her heavy upper thighs, Knowles quipped, “She is enjoying life. She’s got another ten years.”
Margaret Roth of Alexandria’s Marlboro Estates brought her two pre-schoolers so they could “see nature that they normally would not see on their own.”
Helenmarie Corcoran of Old Town Alexandria, accompanied her two teenage granddaughters because “we all love birds," she said. "Dyke Marsh is a tremendous resource."
Retired Alexandria teacher Walter Sanford “got hooked” on birds after taking 1,300 photos of a red-tailed hawk in one day.
Matthew Haymes of Del Ray declared the hawks to be “awesome” and his brother, Thomas, called them “really cool.”
Knowles made the news last year when he rescued a Cooper’s hawk trapped in the Library of Congress and rehabilitated the “Metro eagle” in February, a bald eagle trapped near the Metro subway’s Van Dorn Street Station. How can people prevent raptor accidents? “Don’t throw food out the car window,” Knowles advised. Roadside food scraps attract birds, foxes and raccoons, setting them up for collisions with vehicles.
The Raptor Conservancy is a nonprofit volunteer organization. Knowles has been rehabilitating raptors for 20 years. If you find an injured raptor, call 703-578-1175.