A Day at Houston Audubon’s Raptor and Education Center

I had the great pleasure to hang out with Mary Anne Weber, Houston Audubon\’s Education Director, and Dawn Monachino, Education Specialist, both of whom office out of the Houston Audubon Raptor and Education Center (HAREC) in southeast Houston. Dawn gave me a tour of the sanctuary, which I was very eager to check out since it was my first time there.

The Animals

Now, the first thing to know about HAREC is that it is not just about the birds. They do have other animals in their care as well. The first one I met was Pickles, a 6 month old opossum. Some of the other education animals are:

  • Mac & Cheese – Corn Snake
  • Donut – Ball Python
  • Salsa – Smooth-sided Toad
  • Marcia – Three-toed Box Turtle
  • Licorice – Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula

And then, there were the birds. I have met several of them over the years by helping Mary Anne with Owl Prowls, but now I got to see them at their home, and it was pretty special.

  • Percy* – Eastern Screech Owl
  • Emilio – Purple Martin 
  • Juliet* – Barred Owl
  • Luna – Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Skeeter – Mississippi Kite
  • Simon* – Great Horned Owl
  • Tskili – Great Horned Owl
  • Winston – Harlan’s Hawk
  • Spirit – Red-tailed hawk
  • Geddy and Alex – Barn Owls
  • Forest – Pigeon 
  • Some other Pigeons and Starlings 

*  The birds I’ve met while volunteering at Owl Prowls.

The property has an old log cabin, a barn, a couple of sheds and the aviaries. It also backs up to Sims Bayou, with a wood deck overlooking it. After a short tour, Dawn and I set about doing the chores. It was time to clean up the aviaries and water bowls.

Cleaning Time

Cleaning wasn’t really much more than just raking the ground to mix up the gravel and collect the lumps (waste/pellets) the birds left behind, very much like scooping a litter box. In fact, it was a cat litter scoop that Dawn was using to collect those lumps! The water bowls, which were more like miniature kiddie pools, were then dumped, scrubbed and refilled with clean water. 
Once the aviaries were tidied up, Dawn and Mary Anne went about weighing some of the owls and clipping their talons to keep them in check. Weighing owls is a challenge since they can flap around, and they have those massive talons that can grab onto anything even crush it. So, there needs to be some gloves and tethers used to keep the birds and humans safe during this process.  

A Visit from Rice 

Once these chores were done, we took a couple minutes for a quick rest, because today there was a special visit happening. A class from Rice University dropped in to learn about Houston Audubon, the Raptor and Education Center, and some of the animals that were cared for. The class was on nature-based creative writing, so this was a perfect opportunity for the students to get up close and personal with some animals for their writing. 
Everyone gathered in the barn to hear Mary Anne talk about HAREC. Afterwards, we all went out for a tour of the property, which was very similar to what Dawn and I did when I first showed up. Dawn and Mary Anne took turns showing off a couple of the birds and also did a weigh-in and talon clipping for the Rice students as well.  
We then went inside the cabin and the students got to meet Pickles, the opossum, and the other animals that reside inside the cabin. And with that, the students went on their way, and Dawn and I continued on with the chores as it was feeding time for the animals! 

Feeding Time

The first animal we fed was Pickles the opossum, and she got an interesting combination of yogurt and black olives. Dawn wasn’t sure why the olives, but that was what the appetizer called for. Yes, appetizer, as Pickles ended up getting several other things – salad, blueberries and a couple of quail eggs which were a lot of fun to watch her eat. 
Emilio, the Purple Martin, got a couple pieces of soaked, dry cat food, and later got some superworms, which are the larvae of darkling beetles, as a nice protein snack. The raptors all got mice or rats. 
This time around, as we went through the feeding, I stayed outside of the aviaries so as to not disturb the birds during meal time. Because I know how I feel when I eat. I don’t want anyone getting in my way, or else they may lose a limb as I chew through it! 
With the feeding and final cleaning done, the birds were taken back to their aviaries for the night. Our day was at an end, and it was time for me to go. 
I had an absolute blast and want to thank Mary Anne and Dawn for letting me tag along all day and have such a great time learning more about the Raptor Education Center and the animals in their care! 

By Steve Mertz
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Click here for information on visiting the Raptor and Education Center,  including Behind the Scenes tours.

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