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Birds of prey bring crowds to Raptor Fest
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Clifford Kabe interacts with a Grey Horn Owl during Raptor Fest at Elachee Nature Science Center on Saturday, March 16, 2019. The event gives attendees the opportunity to learn about wild birds of prey through live bird and animal encounters. - photo by Austin Steele

Hundreds of visitors gathered at the Elachee Nature Science Center on Saturday, March 16 for the fifth annual Raptor Fest, which educated attendees on the lives of various birds of prey and the roles they play in nature.

The event, held in Elachee’s Visitor Center, hosted presentations and activities dedicated to helping people understand the importance of birds of prey like eagles, owls and falcons to an ecosystem and how their own actions can impact the lives of these birds in unexpected ways. It also gave people chances to see trained birds at a close distance and ask experts and presenters questions.

According to the event’s founder, Melissa Reed, Raptor Fest was envisioned as an opportunity for people to get up close and personal with these birds in a way they don’t get to naturally.

“Mainly I want them to appreciate the animals that live around them,” Reed said. “I mean, these animals are found in their backyard. Most people don’t even see them, you know? They’re hidden up there. Sometimes they see them swoop down and grab something and go, but they don’t really understand much about them.”

Buster Brown, one of the presenters, has taken part in Raptor Fest it since its inception. As the founder and owner of Georgia Mountain Falconry, Brown has been working with falcons for over a decade, and says he appreciates Elachee’s willingness to dedicate an event to the various raptors on display.

“Raptor Fest is an important thing and I hope they continue to do it at Elachee for a long time,” Brown said. “What drew me to Raptor Fest is I was a falconer before they started. I became a falconer in 2002, and then when Elachee started having this, it was right down my alley. I wanted to be part of it because I fly raptors on a regular basis, and so we’ve been doing it ever since. We want them to learn about birds of prey, their habitat, what they hunt, how they live, how they die.”

Reed hopes people left Raptor Fest with a better understanding of how their actions can affect these birds as well.

“One of the big things we teach here is to make sure you don’t throw things out your window, any kind food scraps,” Reed said. “Even banana peels. And people say, ‘oh, well banana peels, they biodegrade.’ Well, yeah, they do, but as they’re biodegrading they’re attracting mice, that are then attracting owls to the roads, and that’s the main way that our birds end up in rehab centers is they get hit by cars. So that’s what we’re trying to teach everybody: you do make an impact. Most people don’t realize how they’re tied into nature, but they do, they make an impact every day.”

Reed says Raptor Fest was meant to be a smaller alternative to reptile-equivalent Snake Day, which brings in over a thousand people every year in October.

“I’ve heard quite a few people say ‘this is my first time here.’ So I’m glad to know that we’re getting more people in the community to come out and see us so that way they’ll come see us again. Snake Day, we just pour them in. We have, what, 1800 or so that come in through that? So it’s just a little bit of a quieter way to bring people to the nature center.”

Despite the smaller nature of Raptor Fest, Elachee does hope that it will reach Snake Day’s numbers at some point. Education Programs Manager and Camp Director Mallory Pendleton attributes the smaller size of the event to its age.

“It’s been a smaller event, just because this is one of our newer events that we do,” Pendleton said. “We have an annual Snake Day that’s been going on for at least 20 years, and that happens in October. That brings in about 1500 people. We are really hoping Raptor Fest will get to that point as well, but since we are kind of in the beginning stages and raptors are such a specialty as well, I think that’s why it’s taking a few years to grow, but we are every single year getting a few more people.”