Raptors take center stage at the zoo’s first Keeper Chat

In honor of National Bird Day, Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo showcased two of its raptors on Saturday in the first in a series on the monthly Keeper Cats.

Officially, National Bird Day was celebrated on January 5. Created by the Avian Welfare Coalition and Born Free USA in 2002, the event can be observed by reading an Audubon book, building a nesting box, or feeding birds. Better yet, visit the Great Bend Zoo, whose main building is named the Raptor Center, after hawks (including kites), eagles, vultures and owls which are rehabilitated by staff at the zoo.

Two raptors that could not be rehabilitated and returned to the wild were presented on Saturday. Thurston is a great horned owl who has lived at the zoo for about 20 years, and Penelope is a kite from Mississippi who arrived a few years ago.

The two birds have had too much interaction with humans to return to the wild, Burdick said. Thurston was raised with chickens and even today he sometimes gives a “bok-bok” giggle like a chicken. In the wild, great horned owls usually live to adolescence, but in captivity they are known to live up to 50 years. Thurston is over 30 years old.

Thurston seemed content to sit on Burdick’s leather glove, but zoo visitors weren’t allowed to touch the birds. There were feathers on display so people could feel how soft they are. They could also examine an owl dumpling. Pellets are undigested parts of an owl’s food – like hair and bones – that are spat out after eating.

One sign that Thurston has been influenced by humans is that he sometimes gives his keepers his food.

“A male will share his food with his female,” said Burdick. “He likes to give us his mouse.

Owls have fairly good eyesight but rely mostly on their hearing for hunting, usually at night. “They can find prey 300 feet away.”

Penelope the Mississippi Kite has also been found by humans who have attempted to breed her for some time, zookeeper Beccca Curtiss said. However, it is illegal to keep a raptor as a pet.

Mississippi kites and great horned owls are the most common raptors brought to the zoo for rehabilitation. If you find an injured raptor, Burdick suggests wearing thick gloves and throwing a towel over them. Then put it in a cardboard box or pet taxi and take it to the zoo.

Burdick said Keeper Cats will be a monthly event at the zoo this year. The next one will be a celebration of the Lions’ fifth birthday on Saturday February 12th. The Great Bend Zoological Society will offer refreshments at 1 p.m. and guests can watch the lions receive a special enrichment treat at 1:30 p.m.

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