Rapt with attention

Published 10:58 pm Friday, July 20, 2012

Kids watch on during a presentation at Old Lebanon Baptist Church in Pike County, Ala., Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Visiting raptors bring lessons to life

The Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University has 24 permanent residents.

A couple of older children at Old Lebanon Baptist Church raised their eyebrows when Marianne Hudson, raptor specialist, referred to raptors as “residents.”

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But, that’s exactly what those 24 raptors are – permanent residents.

The Southeastern Raptor Center is a full-service medical and surgical rehabilitation center at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hudson and Tristan Cairns, a center volunteer, presented a program Wednesday at Old Lebanon Baptist Church as a part of the church’s educational outreach program.

“The center receives about 300 raptors each year that have been injured,” Hudson said. “The ones that can’t be fixed so they can be released are kept at the center for educational purposes.”

Hudson brought eight raptors for the program at Old Lebanon and all eight are mentioned in the Bible.

“The raptors that we have brought with us live in the United States and in the Holy Land,” Hudson said. “These are the same kind of raptors that Jesus saw when he walked the Earth.”

Hudson first explained that raptors have claws that are designed for grabbing.

“That helps us to understand the word, rapture,” she said. “Rapture means to grab and lift up and that’s what raptors do. They grab their prey and lift it up.”

Hudson said that raptors are hunters.

“They hunt and they kill but they do not kill people,” she said.

The raptor that elicited the most “aaaahs” was the barn owl.

“God made these owls before barns but they like to live in barns so they are called ‘barn’ owls,” Hudson said. “Barn owls eat mice. Each of them eats about 160 mice a year. Mice damage crops so barn owls provide a needed service to the farmer.”

The American screech owl is known for its mournful sound.

“Because of its mournful sound, the screech owl is sometimes associated with bad times,” Hudson said. “Some people believe that seeing a screech owl means a death in the house or hard times ahead.  Job in the Bible was going through rough times so it was said that he ‘is now a companion to owls.’”

Its small size allows the screech owl to hunt in tight places.

“The screech owl can fly into the dense areas at the edge of a forest and maneuver and hunts easily,” Hudson said.

The barred owl lives in swampy areas and hunts and eats frogs, fish, snakes, lizards and salamanders.

“The barred owl is called the ‘night monster’ because it screams and yells in such a scary way that it will make people almost jump out of their skins,” Hudson said.

The Great Owl does not live in the United States.

“It’s an exotic owl that lives in Europe,” Hudson said. “It is strong and powerful and is camouflaged in such a way that it is extremely difficult to see.”

Before the presentation began, Cairns sat quietly with a “bird” perched on a stand next to him. The bird – a falcon – was wearing a hood that was actually a blindfold.

“He thinks it is night,” Hudson said. “He’s aware of the noise but it doesn’t bother him at all.”

Hudson said there are eight species of falcons in the Troy area.

“Falcons have tear-shaped bodies that allow them to fly extremely fast,” she said. “They can fly 270 miles per hour.

“The way they can fly so fast is that they fly very high and then dive straight down on their prey – often ducks that can move at 100 miles per hour. Imagine what would happen if a falcon smacked into a duck at 270 miles per hour. A falcon weighs less than two pounds but it can kill an animal three to four times its weight.”

Falcons have exceptionally keen eyesight.

“If a falcon could read, it could read a newspaper from a mile away,” Hudson said.

Hawks are also in the raptor family and they, too, are good hunters and rats are their main prey.

“Rats can produce up to 160 babies a year and that’s a lot of rats,” Hudson said.

“But hawks eat a rat a day and they live to be 30 years old. So, they really help reduce the rat population.”

The red-tail hawk is a buzzard and the big black birds that are commonly called buzzards are actually vultures.

“Vultures are the janitors that God gives us to clean up diseases,” Hudson said. “The eat rotten flesh, like road kills. They have a very keen sense of smell. They soar and they can fly for hours and miles without flapping their wings. This gives them a lot of time to look for food and they eat things that nothing else wants to eat.”

Hudson said that rotting flesh contains bacteria that cause disease.

“The odd thing is that once these vultures eat this flesh it comes from them as clean as a whistle so they help clean up disease,” she said.

The last raptor that Hudson brought to Old Lebanon was the big, powerful Golden Eagle.

“These eagles are extremely strong,” she said. “They can kill an animal that weighs up to 70 pounds, an animal like a small deer. And, yes, eagles like this could kill a person but they don’t. God didn’t design them that way.”

Hudson said the raptors are mentioned throughout the Bible in different ways and each had a purpose in God’s plan. “They are perfectly designed to do what they do just as God has designed us to do what we do.”

“Isaiah 40:31 tell us that ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles,” Hudson said.

That scripture is an assurance that no matter how bad life seems to be, those who call upon the Lord will ‘mount up on new wings as eagles’ and fly high and strong and accomplish more than ever thought possible.

That, said church pastor Perry Green, is a powerful message of hope and promise.