It’s a mesmerizing experience to gaze into the eyes of a peregrine falcon. Large and luminous they glisten like black marbles set perfectly above dripping mahogany spots, that give this sleek and streamlined predator a bandit-like appearance.
Its favorite prey is other birds and it is a deadly force when hunting. In a death defying 220 mph dive, it ambushes its victims from above, snatching them from mid air with absurdly huge feet tipped with inch long talons.
For Amelia, the peregrine falcon that just recently made its way to Wild Instincts, a wildlife rehabilitation facility outside of Rhinelander, diving for dinner is a thing of the past.
“We believe she was hit by a car,” said Mark Naniot, wildlife rehabilitator and director of Wild Instincts. “She was injured on Madeline Island and brought here in October. We had to amputate a portion of her left wing so she can no longer fly. She is pretty much recovered now so we are going to use her in educational presentations where people can get chance to see this bird up close and learn more about them.”
And there is no doubt that once Amelia is ready for this new role in her life, she will cause quite an impression. Aside from her damaged wing she is a study in perfection. Her breast is dotted with rust colored flecks that form vertical stripes down her chest. Her beak is broad and powerful, cast in slate blue tapering to black. Each feather on her back is etched in ecru, giving her the appearance of a meticulously sculpted piece of art. She is a curious bird, observing all around her with studied concentration. And there are those eyes, which are gripping.
For Mark, and his wife, Sharon, training Amelia will take time and patience. Mark believes she is a young bird, not even a year old, and that is a plus when it comes to training wild birds for this mission.
“She still is very wild but with lots of time and patience she will get used to being handled and then we will work with her to get her used to other people,” Mark said. “It’s amazing how they adapt.”
And while training Amelia is a going to take some time, it is time that is already in short supply for Mark. Winter is normally when the pace at Wild Instincts is a little slower. Most of the animals that were taken care of last year (more than 600 different species) have been released back into their wild homes, but this year is different. Right now the center is home to more than 35 creatures that can’t be released until insects are again in supply and the ice recedes into open water.
“It’s very unusual to have this many animals here over the winter,” said Mark. “But circumstances this past fall resulted in more rescues than normal.”
Right now there are 20 baby snapping turtles making their home at Wild Instincts.
“Someone saw these turtles hatch, caught them and then decided to sell them on Craig’s List,” Mark said. “They were confiscated by the DNR after it was too late to release them.”
There is a hairy woodpecker, two raccoons, a grey squirrel, and six bats under care at Wild Instincts currently. In addition to these creatures there is Ruby, the red-tailed hawk that is also a permanent resident due to a head injury and an eagle that plays a role in fostering eaglets when they come in for care. A great horned owl also makes its home there.
There is no company that manufactures food for these birds of prey. In the wild, their diet would consist of fish and small rodents but the freezer at Wild Instincts is getting low on these staples.
“We would really appreciate it if ice anglers could get us some fish right now,” said Mark. “Size doesn’t matter as long as they are legal and they don’t have to be cleaned. The eagle alone eats three pounds of fish a day so supplies get low fast. We could also use venison if anyone has any of that they won’t be using.”
Mark and Sharon are also busy organizing the multitude of volunteers that have a love for wild creatures and want to help out.
“This year we will be holding several informational meetings and training sessions for volunteers,” said Mark. “This way they can come to one of these sessions and learn what types of help we need. We do depend so much on our volunteers and appreciate everything they do for us either by volunteering time or donations.”
The first informational volunteer meeting will take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 and then there will be another one that same day at 6 p.m. at Wild Instincts. Rescue and transport drivers are always needed and a training session for those volunteers will be Monday, March 17 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and there will be another one on Sat., March 22 from 10 to 11 a.m.
With the busy season for Wild Instincts right around the corner, Mark is hoping that Amelia learns her lessons well so in a few weeks she, like Ruby the red-tailed hawk, will be able to go to presentations and show people how important it is to take care of all wild creatures.
“While these birds will never fly free again they can be ambassadors for all wildlife,” said Mark. “When people get a chance to see these birds up close they come to appreciate wild creatures and then they have a deeper respect for all wildlife. They can see up close how important it is to have these animals in our environment and how much we need to take care of them.”
Wild Instincts is located at 4621 Apperson Dr. just outside of Rhinelander off Hwy. 47. The phone numbers are 715-362-9453 or 715-490-2727.