2013-11-29 / Front Page

Raptors capture attention of youth

By Ann Fisher
Contributing writer/copy editor


Barbara Melnick, head of school at Aucocisco in Cape Elizabeth, gets up close and personal with Pippen, a saw-whet owl brought to the school by the nonprofifit Wind Over Wings. The Dresden-based organization presented “Soaring with Hope” to students Nov. 22. (Ann Fisher photo) Barbara Melnick, head of school at Aucocisco in Cape Elizabeth, gets up close and personal with Pippen, a saw-whet owl brought to the school by the nonprofifit Wind Over Wings. The Dresden-based organization presented “Soaring with Hope” to students Nov. 22. (Ann Fisher photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – It was hard to tell who was more enraptured when Wind Over Wings visited the Aucocisco School. The birds brought to educate the students looked around with unveiled curiosity, while the children leaned forward in their seats, eager to learn more about their feathered friends.

The “Soaring with Hope” environmental educational program was welcomed to the school Friday, Nov. 22 in the first event held from funds raised for enrichment programs at a reunion celebration in October.

The nonprofit raptor education service was founded by Hope Douglas in 1988 in Connecticut, incorporated as a nonprofit in 1990 and is now based in Dresden.


An owl made of various fruits and vegetables crafted by students in Rachel Knight’s class greeted Hope Douglas and her helpers from Wind Over Wings. The group introduced four birds of prey to the school. (Ann Fisher photo) An owl made of various fruits and vegetables crafted by students in Rachel Knight’s class greeted Hope Douglas and her helpers from Wind Over Wings. The group introduced four birds of prey to the school. (Ann Fisher photo) Wind Over Wings cares for eight different birds of prey, including the common raven, bald eagle, northern saw-whet owl and golden eagle.

Four species were brought to the presentation at the elementary school: a saw-whet owl – the smallest owl native to Maine – a great hornedowl, an American kestrel and a golden eagle. Like all birds housed at the sanctuary, each has its own story about how it came to Wind Over Wings.

Pippen, the diminutive owl, was taken in after falling from a nest. As a result, she did not learn all the skills a baby bird usually does and could not survive in the wild.

“She’s completely comfortable with people; the calmest bird we have,” said Douglas, who added that it’s a myth that mother birds will abandon a nest if a fledgling falls out.

Douglas said among other facts about owls, they can hear the heartbeat of a mouse under snow cover and can see the bottom row on an eye chart a mile away.

“I bet you didn’t know birds like to play,” said Douglas earlier, during her introduction. Four toys were found in an empty eagle’s nest, she said, and included a light bulb and a baseball that fledglings would roll back and forth.

Crecelle is an American kestral who was found on the side of the road in New York, presumably hit by a car. Two broken bones in her wing mended, but Crecelle still can’t fly more than a few feet. Kestrels, said Douglas, have fake eyes on their backs to fool predators and can dive at speeds of up to 30 mph.

Last, but far from least, Skywalker emerged from his carrier. The regal golden eagle had been “shot right out of the sky” said Douglas and, as a result, the difficult decision to amputate his wing was made by a veterinarian. When he arrived at the rehab center, Skywalker became “angrier and angrier” as he realized how his life had irrevocably changed for the worse. The loss of a bird’s wing results not only in permanent grounding, but affects a bird’s sense of balance and causes heat loss.

Douglas responded by reading to Skywalker to get him accustomed to the sound of a human voice.

“Over time he turned around and looked at me,” Douglas said. “He started to even sing,” a sound that resembles a foghorn more than anything else, she added to appreciative laughter.

Although they may become used to the sound of a human, they will never know their touch. Neither Douglas nor her assistants and volunteers are ever pet the birds.

The most touching story was about a bird that wasn’t brought to the presentation. Some years ago in Connecticut, a sheriff’s deputy helped protect Douglas as she rescued a Cooper’s hawk that was found injured on the side of the road. Although seriously injured, the bird slowly improved, and the officer would call to keep abreast of its progress. When it came time to release the hawk, Douglas called the officer and invited him to do the honors. But when the top of the cage was released, the bird did not take right off, as they usually do.

“The hawk didn’t move,” Douglas recalled. “He stepped on the glove and looked right into the eyes of that deputy (who saved his life), opened his wings and took off.”

Located at 126 Spurwink Ave, Aucocisco School is “a private special purpose school that serves elementary, middle and high school students who learn differently.” Those interested in learning more about Aucocisco School, can visit www.aucociscoschool.org, our Facebook page or call 773-7323 (READ).

For more information about Wind Over Wings, visit www.windoverwings.org

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