The naturalists of the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in Summit Hill recently had the opportunity to let one of its orphaned animals spread its wings and fly. Literally.
On Tuesday afternoon, Franklin Klock, Susan Gallagher and Alyssa Keiper of the center trekked down to the Bloomingdale Swamp, located behind the education center, to release a Barred Owl, which the center has been raising since the spring.
Gallagher explained that the center typically doesn't get Barred Owls, which are wetland birds, for rehabilitation.
"He came to us as an orphan," she said, adding that they paired the owl with a resident Barred Owl, who has a broken wing and can no longer survive on his own outside captivity. The elder owl acted as the orphan's "foster parent" and helped it maintain its natural animal instincts.
Gallagher noted that the reason for providing the orphan with a foster parent was because he would eventually be released back into the wild and if the center workers cared for the animal, it would become accustomed to humans. That human contact could be dangerous for the animal's survival in the wild because it would become dependent on humans for food rather than catching and killing small prey on its own.
Over the last few months, Gallagher, Klock, and the team at the education center prepared the owl for its release. They provided live prey, which the owl successfully caught for food.
"He's eager to hunt for his prey," Gallagher said. "It's time to let him go. He wants out."
So let him out is what they did.
To help the bird with its transition into the wild, Klock climbed a tree in the swamp and hung a Barred Owl box, which the owl could use as a nesting area.
He then lifted the bird up to the box and placed it in it.
At first, Klock thought the owl would immediately fly away, but the owl had other plans.
As the team watched the box from the ground, the owl peeked out, seemingly content with its new home and silently thanking the group for their love and care over the last few months.
The naturalists will now continue to check the box over the next few weeks to see if the owl stays in the area or if he flies away.
If there are signs of habitation, the center will leave some food.
The Carbon County Environmental Education Center is home to numerous birds of prey and small animals that are either being rehabilitated or can no longer survive in the wild due to a debilitating injury.
The center, which has been around since 1983 and is located on 70 acres of woodland, wetland and meadows, has a dedicated staff that cares for wildlife that comes through the center and educates the public through programs and school events about the importance of keeping the environment safe and clean for the animals.
For more information on the center, visit its website at www.carboneec.org.