Yesterday I rode along with a few of my favorite Field Museum scientists to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. There were two reasons for the visit. Whirl, Mary Hennen and Dave Willard had been invited to the annual Chicago Bird Collision Monitors picnic hosted by the center, and Mary had an appointment with the center’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Jen Nevis. Willowbrook is operated by the DuPage County Forest Preserve and provides wildlife rehabilitation and education about the animals and ecological systems of the area.
Willowbrook takes in thousands of birds each year, many of them collected by CBCM. CBCM rescues injured migratory birds, and advocates for mitigating the urban dangers affecting migratory birds. They also collaborate with building management, architects and the public to prevent bird collisions. Dave is the Field Museum scientist who has conducted the bird collision studies supporting the Chicago Lights Out program and he works closely with Mary and the CBCM volunteers in his research.
All of this preface is my way of describing that the picnic was attended by collection of volunteers and scientists who knew each other from years of working together on a project they are passionate about. And I was able to tag along and listen to what they had to discuss.
I brought the camera along. I decided that I would set aside my prejudice against photographing wild animals in captivity. And I’m glad I made that decision.
So far this season, Willowbrook has taken in three of the Chicago-area peregrine falcon fledglings for rehabilitation. Dr. Nevis had a number of questions for Mary about the fledglings and their behavior. In particular, Mary explained that fledgling peregrine falcons are not the best fliers at this age and will often stay in one place for hours. Often in poses that can appear quite distressing to someone who does not know otherwise.
After Mary answered Jen’s questions, Jen took us on a tour of the raptor rehabilitation facility where we were able to see how Willowbrook was caring for the peregrine fledglings and look in on some of the other current residents. I happily snapped pictures of each of the fledglings for Mary and Whirl in their spacious open flight chamber, as the first stop on the tour. The second stop was the highlight for me. Five juvenile great horned owls were rehabilitating in the second flight chamber. Perhaps somewhat to Whirl’s distress, my favorite bird-of-prey is not the falcon, but rather the owl. I could have stayed in that room watching them for all afternoon. They swooped from perch to perch in front of me. Wingspans of about four feet, and whisper quiet.
Quite the treat. You will notice that one of the owls is afflicted by a retinal defect in the left eye. The center is actively looking to place this animal with a licensed facility, and were happy to see the animal flying about as actively as the others. I tried desperately get some good photographs of the afflicted bird to donate to the center and aid in the placement process.