Cub Scouts get close look at injured birds before return to wild

NEIGHBORS

April 20, 1994|By PAT BRODOWSKI

Five feathered friends visited Cub Scout Pack 790 Friday vTC night at Spring Garden Elementary School.

The mallard duck, two owls, a hawk and a vulture know park Ranger Bill Troutman. He and Scales and Tales members have helped these birds with medical attention and protection until they can be returned to the wild.

Scales and Tales seeks to encourage an appreciation for Maryland wildlife, and to promote understanding of the relationship of man, wildlife and the environment. The program is financed by the Maryland State Park Foundation, the Maryland Forest and Park Service and private citizens.

Friday night, with birds in hand, Ranger Troutman brought a Scales and Tales presentation to the scouts.

"Who injures wild birds?" asked Ranger Troutman. "Good people who should have been more aware."

The mallard, paddling the air as the ranger held it under his arm, was captured after it got ensnared in fishing line that someone carelessly left behind. One wing was healing.

The ranger hoisted a grandly feathered red-tailed hawk from its cage. Talons as thick as a pencil grabbed the ranger's gloved hand. The bird's right foot had received a nasty bite from a squirrel it had captured. Then its left foot had become swollen from trying to function for both feet as the bird perched in trees and captured food.

Hawks eat mice, the ranger explained. That's why he likes to call this bird a "rat hawk."

The hawk's large olive eyes can see better than a human with binoculars, said the ranger. From the sky, it spots rats and mice. The hawk dives at incredible speed, up to 100 miles per hour, and its talons usually kill the prey instantly.

The hawk's tail is a broad cinnamon-colored fan. That's why it's dubbed a "red-tailed hawk" instead of the former misnomer, "chicken hawk."

Ranger Troutman said that years ago, the red-tailed hawk was mistakenly thought to attack chickens, and farmers were paid a bounty for shooting one. Today, shooting a red-tailed hawk can bring the shooter five years in prison.

Cub Den Leader Lisa Zipprian was given a great horned owl to hold on her outstretched arm. Its feathers, finely striped with shades of brown, gave it a fluffy coat, even on the legs. The owl stood tall and bushy, like a very large cat, as Mrs. Zipprian discovered that it weighed about as much as a cat, too.

The owl's large dark eyes, ringed with yellow, seemed to target the boys as it slowly turned its head. As Ranger Troutman explained the crushing power of the owl's talons -- 300 pounds, enough to penetrate a human skull -- the owl lunged into the Cub Scouts, flapping away for all of its yardlong leash.

The great bird did not attack, though; the leash held its feet together.

Then Ranger Troutman explained this bird's malady. It had been taken as a nestling and raised as a pet. It couldn't live in the wild as it should.

Baby birds, he said, should be returned to the nest. Most birds have no sense of smell and won't know that you've touched their young.

The ranger also showed an Eastern screech owl the size of a large apple. The screech owl is known generally as a bigmouth. When it screeches, campers are convinced a murder is happening, said Ranger Troutman, because its cry is so loud and scary.

The turkey vulture looked like a remnant from Jurassic Park. With a red, featherless head and one white tooth at the tip of its long narrow beak, it looked suspiciously like a dinosaur bird. As the vulture flexed its wings, spreading them to about 5 feet, it draped the ranger with a headdress of long, black feathers.

Vultures are valuable, the ranger said, because they are the sanitary engineers of the wild, dining only upon dead animals. And, although they sometimes ingest rabid animals, they do not get or pass on the disease. Rabies stops with the vulture's dinner.

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Citizens can help injured wildlife that will later be released.

AYour family can "adopt" a bird, and help to provide food, medical supplies and veterinary care. Those who do will receive the bird's personal history, a photograph and a certificate. Anyone can adopt a bird, a group of animals, or a display for the program.

It's not expensive. You can adopt a screech owl for $5, an owl for $10. Write to Scales and Tales, Soldiers Delight NEA, 5100 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills, Md. 21117; or call (410) 922-8825 for

information.

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March was "Music in Our Schools" month. At Hampstead Elementary, students were challenged to write an essay about how music is important in their lives.

Two winning essays were chosen March 30, and the writers received commemorative T-shirts. Music instructor Julia Hollenberg coordinated the contest.

For Brennan Murray, in second grade, music communicates. Her essay won first place among all first- and second-grade contestants.

"We can tell by the tone of the music whether a part of a movie is happy, sad, funny, or scary without seeing the pictures," she wrote. "Even though everyone in the world talks differently . . . everybody understands the sound of music."

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