|San Jacinto News Times - Local News
Copyright 2017 - Polk County Publishing Company
Birds of prey soared over Lake Livingston
BY LEW VAIL
Strong-willed avian personalities were on display Saturday when the birds of prey program "Raptors of the Sky" returned to Livingston State Park. Steve Hoddy, who operates the educational program EarthQuest, takes the birds to schools all around the country to allow children to see and learn about the birds. He mixes bird facts, calls and activities into his explanation of each species as he presents them. The birds, who are the main reason for the show, do not always react in the same manner at each show. They can balk, sulk, be overly active and are always a danger to handle. While they are imprinted or accustomed to humans and handling, that does not assure a talon or sharp beak will not catch the attendants clothing or skin. On Saturday, one hawk that flies during the show took a handler's hat and the third time it fouled on its talon it was tough to remove. One interesting fact Hoddy relates is when he is explaining the Peregrine falcon, a high-flying bird with the ability to see prey from extremely high altitudes and then swoop at speeds in excess of 150-200 mile per hour down to grab dinner. Another fact about them is that they like to hunt in packs while most predator birds prefer to be alone when seeking food. He told the audience this falcon bird took off three years ago during a show, whether distracted or seeking a mate, and did not return. Three months later he was found in a farm in the Midwest sitting on a fence, The landowner thought he was injured, and thinking it was a hawk, picked it up with a towel for safety. His microchip brought him back to Hoddy. Now he flies with a GPS unit, and a leg band that tells his location at all times. Some of the birds fly free during their part of the show and return to their cage, covered and in shade, while the next species is the topic at hand. Getting them out and back in can be a problem when the bird's free will is exerted. The horned owl, who by nature is nocturnal, did not want to be in the bright morning sunlight and it took several chicken parts to tempt him to the corn ear bar they stand on during the show. While others like the Peregrine fly right in on cue, including to several handlers and on Saturday to State Park Ranger Joel Janssen. During the show, the reward for performing was dried whole kernel corn that can be stuck on the corn bar or left in the cage pads or just hand-fed with gloves. All the people the bird flies to have a piece of chicken, which is what it is seeking. Their landings are specific and no one in the audience will be in a landing zone. However, swooping around and flying low does provide excitement. The largest and main feature of the show is an Andean condor, a species found in South America and the national bird of several South and Central America countries. They had an important role in helping to restore the California Condor back from almost extinction in the late 1960s when it was determined that the insecticide DDT was poisoning the eagles and condors on the Pacific coast. The Andean condors helped incubate and rear the California condor eggs while the California condors were inspired to lay another egg to raise on their own. The bird Hoddy displayed 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, and is the only one who handles her. With a wingspan of some 10- feet 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.