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Walking (and flying and crawling) on the wild side

By Staff | Mar 8, 2008

Third-graders collected more than an eagle’s nest worth of supplies for orphaned and injured wildlife. Linda Hinshaw, volunteer wildlife rehabilitatiionist with the program, spoke to the students Friday. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Linda Hinshaw loves animals.

That could easily be the beginning and the end of the story. But there’s a lot more going on in the middle.

Hinshaw, a volunteer wildlife rehabilitation specialist with Orphaned and Injured Wildlife in Spirit Lake, spoke to Estherville Lincoln Central third-graders Friday about the injured animals she cares for before releasing them again into the wild.

Hinshaw cares for all species of animals and right now she’s caring for two trumpeter swans, a read-tailed haw, a pigeon, two long-eared owls, and a short-eared owl. She expects more patients this spring and summer as ducks and geese begin migrating north again.

“Every day is exciting in my work because every day is different and every patient is different,” Hinshaw said.

This short-eared owl was the star of Hinshaw’s program on Friday. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Hinshaw showed the third-graders an endangered short-eared owl that came to her with its wing broken in several places. The wing was infected and had to be removed so now she has to care for it for the rest of its life.

In the wild, short-eared owls eat mice and insects. A ground-nesting raptor, short-eared owls are now rare because 99 percent of Iowa’s marshlands are gone. As their habitat vanished, so did the owls.

Owls can see seven times better than people in the day and 50 times better at night. That’s equivalent to having a night vision scope.

“Imagine having night vision binoculars built into your eyes,” Hinshaw said. “That is how a short-eared owl sees.”

With twice the number of vertebrae as people, owls can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees. Their hearing helps them target prey because of their asymmetrically positioned ears. As they swoop down on their prey, they can crush a mouse with their talons instantly. Small mice they can swallow instantly while they tear larger ones apart.

While owls are fast, their cousin raptors are even faster. Hinshaw said bald eagles can fly 70 miles an hour, red-tailed hawks 140, and peregrine falcons over 200 miles an hour.

The students had a lot of questions, and Hinshaw had answers for all of them.

Bigger owls will eat smaller owls, she said, noting that great horned owls will eat barn owls which as a result are becoming endangered in Iowa.

Hinshaw said that while she has been injured a number of times while handling wildlife, it was always her fault because she wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing at the time and the animals were stressed.

After Hinshaw’s presentation, the third-graders gathered up items they had collected for Orphaned and Injured Wildlife.

It was more than enough to fill up an eagle’s nest.

Many eagles’ nests, in fact.