By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA — From snakes to owls to hawks, there is wildlife all around us every day.
Mackenzie Roof, the wildlife programs manager at the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum, conducted a presentation at the RCS Community Library recently about the animals that are right here in our backyard.
She brought with her a selection of live animals, including an American toad, an Eastern rat snake, a broad-winged hawk and a barred owl.
“There’s wildlife all around us, all the time,” Roof said. “These animals are able to interact with people in different ways and they all need help, so learning as much as we can about them helps us connect to them and hopefully makes a difference in the places where these animals live.”
Visitors were able to touch the Eastern rat snake, which grows up to 6 feet long and is the longest snake that lives in this region. It is a constrictor and eats, you guessed it, rodents.
“They are mostly found a bit further south but we do have them around here,” Roof said. “They are not venomous, meaning that if she bit me, she would not inject me with any kind of toxin that would hurt me. Poisonous means that if you ate her, you would get sick. Venomous means they inject you with something. She is non-venomous — most snakes you will find here are non-venomous. There’s only one kind [of venomous snake] that can be found up here — the timber rattlesnake and it is very uncommon.”
The Eastern rat snake lives in yards and doesn’t harm humans, and they like to stay near rock walls and rock piles.
Roof also showed off two birds of prey, which are birds that eat other animals. Both birds at the library program were raptors.
“Raptors are a category of birds of prey that use their grabbing talons to capture their food,” she told the audience. “This includes eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. We have all of those living near us, and depending on where you live, they could be in your backyard.”
Wearing a protective glove that covered most of her arm, Roof took a broad-winged hawk out of its cage.
“They are called broad-winged hawks mostly because they use some of their soaring flight to be able to capture their food,” she said. “This is a migratory bird. Most of our migratory birds are really small — songbirds, orioles, warblers — all of those birds go to South and Central America every winter. That is a very unique thing to do and it’s very difficult and taxing on them. This is one of the only hawks that will fly all the way to South America for the winter.”
Broad-winged hawks are in our area from spring to fall, and then migrate south.
The bird on display was injured, which is how he came to be rescued by a wildlife rehabilitator.
“He was hit by a car and that is why he is with us,” Roof said. “Oftentimes, birds of prey are hit by cars because they like to hunt in more open areas, so a lot of the time they hunt near roads. He is missing half of his wing on one side so he can’t fly. He is also missing a talon, so he can’t hunt. The talon was likely lost due to frostbite.”
The final animal shown during the program was a barred owl, which let out a couple of loud hoots, much to the delight of children in the audience.
“Barred owls are not the same as barn owls. They are two different species,” Roof said. “Barred owls got their name because of the striped barring across their feathers. They use those feathers as camouflage, so they are able to blend into trees really well. Because they are nocturnal, they spent their days relaxing and sleeping intermittently. They blend in with the trees, so they are difficult to see during the day. They are the most common owl all across the Northeast.”
Barred owls have excellent vision that they use to hunt at night. Their eyes are so big in relation to their head that if humans had eyes in the same proportion, they would be the size of grapefruits, Roof said.
“Their eyes are bigger than their brain,” she said. “Their ears are also huge. If you look inside their ears, you can see the back of their eyes. They look cute, but they are super predators.”
All of the animals shown during the program can be found locally, perhaps even in your backyard.