Livingston State Park Interpreter Joel Janssen hit a grand slam when he was able to have the Earthquest Birds of Prey come up for two programs over the Easter weekend.
More than 450 adults and children attended the two shows and were thrilled by the large and fierce looking winged creatures. Earthquest is a non-profit educational program operated by Steve Hoddy, who has been featured along with the birds on Good Morning America and the David Lettermen Show.
Hoddy and a volunteer with the Friends of the Brazos Wildlife Management Center, Phil Huxford, were joined by Hoddy’s grandson and aspiring falconer, Tyler, for this program at no cost to the state park.
A main feature of the show is an Andean condor, a species found in South America and the national bird of several countries. These birds had an important role in helping to restore the California condor back from almost extinction in the late 60’s when it was determined that DDT was poisoning the eagles and condors on the Pacific coast.
The bird Hoddy has was surgically removed from an egg that would not open. She was then hand raised to see if she would live. At that point she became what they call an “imprinted bird” with no natural parents and she thinks to this day, some 20 years later, that Hoddy is her mate. He is the only one who handles her.
With a wingspan of some 10 foot and weighing about 25 pounds, she has a strong will to do her own program while ripping meat from chicken leg bones for a treat.
The fastest bird shown was the Peregrine Falcon, a high soaring, sharp-eyed hunter. These birds have been clocked as traveling at 100 mph on a dive after prey. The bird shown Saturday was named “Utah” and did his flying from a tether after he flew off the previous week and was gone for four days. Spring apparently also turns a falcons head to other things besides chicken. He did return home when hungry.
The Eurasian eagle owl is the largest in the owl family and has huge eyes, about twice the size of a humans. Hoddy pointed out when you see an owl with a clump of grass, don’t surmise they are building nest. Their food -- rabbits and field mice -- often hide in thick grass and the owl will swoop in and take dinner and grass in one huge claw full. They have the best hearing of the avian raptors and can even hear moles tunneling in the ground.
The Harris hawk Hoddy brought with him from Georgia where they are based, is a species which also populates East Texas. With large powerful talons they have the capability to lift a full grown rabbit from the ground and fly off, taking it to their eating spot and rip it to shreds.
Hoddy explained the next two birds are called dirty birds, however they are very important to the environment in cleaning up the road kill as well as animals that get sick, die in the woods and might spread disease should the carcass just sit and rot. He has both a black and a turkey vulture.
They are not buzzards as some people call them; they are entirely a different bird. They are gregarious and will live in large colonies, while most birds of prey are territorial and prefer to live alone or just with a mate for procreating.
The good news at the end of the program is that the bird display will return to the state park next spring for another program.