Birds of Prey Descend on Children's Library

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by Jon O'Connell, courtesy of The Times-Tribune

“Awws” echoed through the Lackawanna County (PA) Children’s Library when Bill Streeter lifted Mortimer, a pocket-sized saw-whet owl, from his crate.

The 3-ounce bird seemed to squint with trepidation as he slowly turned his head to size up the room. Mr. Streeter, director of the Delaware Valley Raptor Center in Milford, had met the Furby-like bird of prey 17 years ago after a truck struck the owl in the middle of winter.

A kindhearted passer-by saw the bird flapping in the snow and rescued him, he said.

Although most of the predatory birds, called raptors, rehabilitated at Mr. Streeter’s facility re-enter the wild, Morty is among those that never fully recover. They spend the rest of their days in captivity as part of educational programs like the one held Sunday afternoon at the library.

Mr. Streeter, director of the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, with bird of preyWhile greeting about 100 people attending, library event coordinator Jenny Shoener reveled at the turnout and said she hopes to plan similar events in the future.  Scranton Public Library Director Jack Finnerty, who stood next to his own son and grandson, said events with animals always draw a crowd.

For Julia, a 21-year-old golden eagle who weighs 14 pounds and has a blind right eye, she may be teaching children for the rest of her life — which could be another 20 years, Mr. Streeter said.

The crowd had been mostly silent at the start and captivated by the bird man’s fast-talking narratives as he explained bird anatomy and specific skills, like Indycar-speed aerial dives and the visual acuity to read newspaper headlines from three football fields away.

But kids and parents alike soon worked up a frenzied volley of questions for him, as he returned each bird from his leather-gloved hand to its sturdy wooden crate.  “Where do they poop?” one girl asked with sincere curiosity.  Out of their bird butts, Mr. Streeter replied bluntly, stirring up laughter nonetheless.

Another boy asked if he could keep a feather from an owl or a hawk. Mr. Streeter graciously declined, explaining gently that by law, only Native Americans are permitted to keep raptor feathers. As a rehabilitator, he’s allowed to use them for education, he said.

He held up Tacoma, a great horned owl that had been found emaciated because of a wing problem that hampered its hunting.  Also on parade: Neekahna, a half-blind red-tailed hawk, and a kestrel named Lola that had been raised illegally by humans and never learned essential survival skills.

“Lola thinks she’s a human,” he said. “She’ll never change.”