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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Birds of prey meet, greet Pinellas public

ST. PETERSBURG — The bald eagle launched from his handler’s glove into a half-circle, his wings brushing by two little girls seated in the front row.

For a moment, in all the furious flapping, it appeared the great bird might take flight inside the Cultural and Natural History Center at Weedon Island Preserve.

Abiaka squawked after the cords around his talons forced him to return to his perch. The majestic national bird was not particularly happy to be giving an educational presentation to children on a Saturday morning.

“He’s got a real short temper line there, but that’s characteristic of a bald eagle,” said Gabriel Vargo, co-director of the birds of prey program at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

After a storm on Honeymoon Island knocked him out of a tree, Abiaka’s injured right wing meant his only chance of survival was with the nature preserve, home to a variety of hawks, owls and other birds that nest along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Volunteers with Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve also showed a red tail hawk, a falcon and an Eastern screech owl to a group of 50 people Saturday.

The preserve is hosting its first Raptor Fest this Saturday with more than 30 birds, including the world’s largest, an Andean condor with a wingspan of 10 feet.

The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the preserve, located at 1101 Country Club Way S.

Preserve volunteers gave a preview this weekend at Weedon Island, part of an extensive educational tour they do every year at schools and for other organizations.

“We’ve re-purposed their lives,” said Chantal Vachon. “We’ve made them aviary ambassadors so that they come out into the public.”

For example, though an abundance of tiny Eastern screech owls living in St. Petersburg might go unnoticed because their coloring blends with trees, the city would notice if they ever went extinct by a proliferation of cockroaches.

“They eat roaches. We all hate roaches,” Vachon said.

Rather than spraying the lawn with harmful chemicals, she suggested setting up a screech owl box in the yard.


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