By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2018
For the most part, unless you go out at night, you’ll miss the raptors on patrol downtown, swooping down to catch prey right in Chicago’s front yard.
But, a few times each summer, the team at Wings and Talons brings a few rehabilitated birds to Lurie Garden for free daytime shows they call Raptors! wherein garden visitors can learn about the habits of these birds.
Wings and Talons is a non-profit based in the northwest suburbs that provides care and shelter for raptors that can’t survive on their own. The group also supports education, wildlife stewardship and conservation. The organization, which calls these birds “nature’s fighter jets,” was founded in 2016 by a group of volunteers who share a passion for educating the public about birds of prey.
Currently in their care are a male and female red-tailed hawk, an eastern screech owl, a great horned owl, a barred owl, an American kestrel, a broad-winged hawk and a turkey vulture.
On July 10, Wings and Talons brought the male red-tailed hawk, the eastern screech owl, the barred owl, and the broad-winged hawk to Lurie Garden and set up shop.
With the skyline towering above, volunteers stood in a grassy area with the birds perched on their hands, ready to educate folks who wandered through the garden and those who came specifically to check out the birds.
For these events, there is no sign-up, no ticketing and no formal talk. Rather, visitors simply walk up to the volunteers and ask whatever questions they like.
“We like educating people because the more they know about these birds the more they know about what’s living right around their neighborhoods,” said volunteer Larry Devera, with a red-tailed hawk perched on his arm. “These could be living right in your backyard.”
Red-tailed hawks live in our area, but others, like the broad winged hawk, made quite the journey to end up in Illinois.
This bird migrates in flocks known as kettles all the way to South America each year, preying on frogs, toads and small rodents, or even other birds, invertebrates and bigger reptiles.
The female hawk at Lurie Garden came to Wings and Talons from the Carolina Raptor Center due to a wing injury.
Coming up on her second birthday, the red-tailed hawk came to Wings and Talons after suffering head trauma from hitting a window in 2016. She injured her eye and can no longer hunt but if she could, Illinois would provide the perfect environment.
“In the Midwest it’s very common for them to swell in forests or by the water,” said volunteer Christine Richtor-Duff, “We just don’t see them much because they come out at night.”
But even though these birds are adapted to live in the urban environment, they did not start off that way.
“There are a lot of theories about what they evolved from,” said Richtor-Duff. The most common theory is they evolved from dinosaurs.
“There are so many similarities in talons and bone structure to dinosaurs like velociraptors,” said Richtor Duff.
Other birds, like owls and vultures, have been in their present form for quite some time, without adapting or changing much over the course of human history.
Guests were able to get a close-up look at a black-eyed barred owl. The 11-year-old bird was not injured, but imprinted on humans at a young age, and was therefore unable to return to the wild.
Also on hand was a small eastern screech owl on a perch near the group’s information table. This little bird, standing about five inches high, isn’t native to the area, but is nearly identical to the western screech owl, which can be found throughout Illinois.
Lakeshore East Regatta resident Bill Evans came to check out the birds with his 9-year-old daughter, Brielle Evans.
Brielle, a fourth-grader at Ogden International School, is a huge fan of owls. She was even carrying a colorful owl shaped purse as she checked out the birds.
Her love of the birds is in part due to her school — the mascot at Ogden is the owl. The Evans family are also members of the nearby University Club, which also uses the owl as its mascot.
Bill thought the display from Wings and Talons was a great way to bring nature and wildlife into the heart of the city.
“I think it’s wonderful to have such an educational thing here in the city,” said Evans, “Especially for kids who don’t have access to the wild; it creates an awareness for them.”
Wings and Talons will return to the Lurie Garden for another session of Raptors! On Aug. 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.