Saving Birds of Prey and Dealing With Loss
Cascades Raptor Center
For the past four months, I’ve been volunteering at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, OR. What’s a raptor center? As one friend quipped, it’s basically a welfare system for birds of prey (owls, eagles, hawks, kites, vultures, etc.). More technically and literally, it’s a center for injured raptors, i.e. birds that grab prey with their talons (“raptor” derives from the Latin verb rapere, “to seize”). All the one-eyed, one-winged, imprinted-on birds are brought to the facility to keep on living; they are also used to educate the public. As a volunteer, I mostly help feed (thawed mice, rats, chicken, quail, fish) and clean the raptors’ mews (many specialize in “gut art,” draping intestines in aesthetic configurations), but also occasionally help weigh a bird or assist in the clinic. Many injured birds are treated and released back into the wild.
My favorite part of the experience has been getting to know some of the resident birds; they are all characters or, as a handler once said, “rockstars” (for being able to interact with us humans at all). My first day, a 4 oz. American Kestrel named Puck jumped on my head in some kind of initiation/rite of passage. I have fallen in love with the raven, Mitra. He and his mew mate, Miri, a black-billed magpie, are not actually characterized as raptors (they are corvids), but have found a home at the Cascades Raptor Center all the same. The highlight of my day is feeding Mitra a grape; he takes the grape with his pliers-esque beak, then chokes it down delicately, like a transfigured gentleman. If you look closely, his black feathers deepen into blue-black and, in strong light, into a buffed, shiny black. Like many human babies, corvids are born with blue eyes.
Another one of my favorite resident birds is Celilo, one of the Bald Eagles. Once, I was cleaning her mew and she came hopping over to me—usually she scolds from the corner. Though she only weighs 15 pounds, she is an imposing 3½ ft tall with a wingspan of 7 ft. In that moment, with her just a beak away, she reminded me why a Bald Eagle is a much better choice than the wild turkey for our national bird.
This volunteer experience has also lent itself to bizarre dreams and funny documentaries. Though Winged Migration and March of the Penguins are still my favorite bird docs, here is a website, Documentary Addict, with many episodes on birds. Also, check out this fascinating TED lecture on crows. And in case you haven’t caught this video of an eagle flying through the mountains on the French/Swiss border with a GoPro strapped to his/her back; here’s a short follow up video that connects skiing with flying.
—Nicola Fucigna, Fiction Editor
Modern Loss is great and relatively new online publication where writers and non-writers alike have the opportunity “to share the unspeakably taboo, unbelievably hilarious, and unexpectedly beautiful terrain of navigating your life after a death.” With its inspiring articles, links to resources, creative writing ideas, and ways to connect with others who might be going through the hardship of losing someone, Modern Loss is particularly helpful to know about right after the holiday season, during which deaths tend to be at an all-time high.
In fact, according to a recent CNN article by Jen Christensen, people are more likely to die of natural causes “on Christmas, the day after Christmas or New Year’s Day than any other single day of the year.” I have first-hand experience with this holiday-time passing, since years ago, my Jewish great-grandmother also died the day after Christmas, not able to make it to one last Soviet New Year’s celebration with the family. This past December 26th, after lighting a Yahrzeit candle in honor of the eleventh anniversary of her death, I read Annie Stamell’s article about losing her own mother. It made me laugh, tear up, and feel somehow lighter on a day that had annually been difficult and full of heavy thoughts. Instead of pure grief, I remembered my first Christmas in America: how I begged to get presents like the other kids; how I got The Lion King on video from Santa even though I didn’t have a stocking or a tree; and how I watched the movie with my great-granny early that morning, translating all the action for her into Russian and crying in her arms when Mufasa died.
—Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Poetry Editor