After retiring in May of 2020, I looked for an opportunity to volunteer in a way that would support a deep love of nature and a belief that education is the best path to positive change. Fortunately, I could combine these two values by volunteering at Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, VT.
VINS mission is to motivate individuals and communities to care for the environment through education, research, and avian wildlife rehabilitation. Their programs engage and instill in people of all backgrounds a desire to care for the wildlife and diverse natural habitats they encounter in their daily lives. It is probably not very interesting to repeat the information available at vinsweb.org But here is a little of the behind the scenes information. Currently I am doing a job called “scraping” for the exhibit birds. This involves clearing away the leftover food from the previous day, recording what was not eaten, and a bit of cleaning. VINS has 17 display enclosures with 28 individual exhibit birds. Although many of the birds have been residents for years, they are still wild animals that require caution and respect. If you happen see me in an enclosure, I will probably be singing or talking softly to the birds, so they can track where I am and hopefully not become startled or agitated.
Two of my favorite birds are the snow owls, partly because they are so beautiful and partly for their character. The pure white male, named LaGuardia is very shy and gentle. I love the feathers running down to his feet. He looks comical the way he lifts his feet high to run from one location to the next. The female “Snowy” is white with gray stripes, which is just a variant, similar to how some people have brown hair and some have blond. She was once an education bird and is much more comfortable around people. Snowy always moves close to the back door when she hears me coming, puffs up her feathers to look formidable and watches intently my every move. She is probably hoping for someone to bring fresh food, but I do think she enjoys a little company too.
The raven are our love birds; they were housed together just recently and seem to have truly hit it off. They have been seen preening each other and sharing food. The male will puff up the feathers on his head and make a lovely cooing sound. This week it looked like they are building a nest in one of the higher perches. The ornithologist say these are some of the most intelligent birds. They can open containers and enjoy playing with toys. Every day, in addition to meat, we hide some fruit and vegetables in their enclosure to keep them busy and stimulated. There are several wild ravens in the area which perch on top of the enclosure to visit and beg for freebies. I could have sworn we had four birds there the other day!
Of particular interest, right now are the bald eagles. They built a nest of loose sticks, and there is an egg! The larger bird is the female “Elmwood.” She is always a bit loud and cantankerous, but now she is a force to be reckoned with. On Monday, the male was sitting on the egg and Elmwood was on patrol; charging any intruder with talons outstretched, beak open, fierce eyes and loud screeching. Even with an additional person in the enclosure to try and keep her at a distance, we had to just back out without scrapping. I don’t blame them for being protective, unfortunately in a few weeks the staff will replace the real egg with a decoy. This pair would not be able to raise a young eagle and teach it to hunt or survive on its own.
On a happier note, one of the prime activities at VINS will be gaining steam very soon. Every spring they provide baby bird feeding services for hundreds of birds that have been separated from their parents. Additionally, there is an active wild bird rehabilitation hospital on site, and many birds of all varieties are successfully treated and released back into the wild.
If you are looking for a fun place to explore with children and adult guests, consider VINS which has a variety of exhibits and activities, and is open seven days a week.
I look forward to meeting many of my fellow garden club members in the future, but until then…wishing you safety and abundant growth.