Saw-what?

HARVEY – The Chocolay Raptor Center has grown by about 4 ounces.

The center, which is the home to several birds of prey used in eduction programs that because of various injuries cannot be released back into the wild, has a new addition: a saw-whet owl named Fiona.

“She’s doing well,” said Jerry Maynard, center president. “She has a good appetite. She’s getting used to us. She’s becoming calmer when we’re around, and now sits on the glove. Once she’s on the glove, she’s real good.”

Fiona came from another raptor rehabilitator in Quinnesec after being hit by a car and blinded in one eye in February. The owl has been at the center since May.

Although the owl weighs only 4 ounces, Maynard pointed out she still has to be trained on the glove every day.

Three other center birds are used in education programs: Phoenix the peregrine falcon, Erik the red-tailed hawk and Sage the great horned owl.

Since great horned owls have been known to prey on the much tinier saw-whets in the wild, Maynard acknowledged the two center birds have to be kept separately, for obvious reasons.

Although all raptors have their compelling features – strong beaks and talons being just two of them – it’s a fair bet the little saw-whet will be a big hit with program audiences.

Maynard said kids watching his education programs can learn about the different sizes of raptors, which range from the 4-ounce saw-whet to a golden or bald eagle at 12 pounds.

“But they all eat meat,” he said, “so this little bird will eat mice primarily, insects. But they’re like any other raptor. They’re pretty eclectic in their diet.”

The saw-whet owl is common in Michigan, Maynard said, but seldom seen.

“They’re totally a nocturnal bird,” he said. “They tend to like dense forests, dense cover. You find them in swamps at night. Actually, mostly they’re heard rather than seen. They have a funny little ‘toot-toot-toot-toot.'”

Maynard said he believes Fiona’s a girl, primarily based on her size, but other than taking a DNA sample, the only way to be sure of her gender is if she lays an egg.

Maynard said he has another mission for the center’s program: educating people about the dangers of lead ammunition, which has been prohibited nationwide in waterfowl hunting but not other types of hunting.

According to the National Park Service, when a lead bullet traveling at almost three times the speed of sound strikes animal tissue, it begins to expand and fragments into hundreds of small pieces in its trajectory.

Animals that feed on the dead animals then are exposed to lead bullets, with the poisoning having been shown to be a serious factor for many species like California condors, hawks, ravens and grizzly bears.

Maynard said that since raptors are apex predators, lead becomes concentrated in their bodies.

“I like to tell hunters that,” he said. “If you’re feeding your family, the products of your hunt that were shot with lead – you’re exposing your kid to lead. Of course, everyone knows that lead is extremely toxic.”

Copper or steel, Maynard noted, would be better choices for ammunition. He also backs an effort asking the Department of the Interior to prohibit the use of lead ammunition on federal lands.

However, teaching basic raptor knowledge still remains a major component of the raptor center, which recently switched its focus from rehabilitation to education.

For more information on the Chocolay Raptor Center, visit its page on Facebook or call 249-3598.