OAK MOUNTAIN, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Wildlife Center does serious work, each year rehabilitating almost 2,000 injured or abandoned native Alabama birds with a goal of being able to return them to the wild healthy enough to fend for themselves. But while the staff and volunteers of the center take their work seriously, they also know how to have fun.
Take, for example, this past weekend, when hundreds of children and parents descended upon the center, located in Oak Mountain State Park south of Birmingham, for "Owl-O-Ween."
The Saturday program primarily was aimed at kids, and judging by the smiles and looks of awe on the children's faces, the program was a smashing success. (See photos.)
The activities included face-painting and games for the children. The kids decorated cookies, supposedly to take home, but for the most part I think the cookies lasted but a few minutes. There were nonpoisonous snakes to pet -- the more adventurous youngsters did so -- and other "creepy-crawlies" to admire. Youngsters made owl puppets with the help of volunteers at a crafts table.
But the stars of the show were the birds, and especially the owls. AWC staff members circulated through the crowd with a magnificent almost two-foot-tall Great Horned Owl and an eight-inch Eastern Screech Owl, often heard but seldom seen in the wilds of Alabama.
Other owls as well as hawks and falcons were shown during education programs in the auditorium.
But the highlight of the day was the release of three rehabilitated Great Horned Owls back into the wild.
I was honored to be asked by AWC Director Doug Adair to release one of the owls. (See photos.) As I clutched the owl to my chest to prevent it from harming itself (or me), I was struck by how strong it was compared to how little it weighed and by how sharp those inch-and-a-half talons looked. It was something I'll never forget. (I'll also never forget my granddaughter yelling out to the crowd as I was introduced, "That's my Peppy.")
"Owl-O-Ween" is just one of dozens of programs aimed at children and young people conducted each year by the wildlife center. There are "Baby Bird Showers" and Adopt-a-Bird programs, and a day-camp in the summer, for instance. There are several programs for adults as well.
All of these have a serious side to them -- educating Alabamians on nature and the need to protect and enjoy it and the wildlife in it.
While educating the public is a goal of the center, its focus is on bird rehabilitation and rescue. The almost 2,000 native Alabama wild birds treated at the center each year represent as many as 115 species -- more than 25 percent of all the bird species recorded in Alabama.
The center, working through volunteers, attempts whenever possible to return baby birds to the nest so they can be raised by their parents. But "renesting" is not always possible.
The Alabama Wildlife Center had its birth in 1977 when Anne Miller and volunteers from the Birmingham area started caring for injured birds in her home. Miller led the ever-expanding center as its executive director until her retirement in 2008. The center moved to its current home in a former restaurant in Oak Mountain State Park in 1987.
Current Executive Director Adair said many people assume the center is a state agency, since it is located in a state park. But he said that although the center has a close working relationship with the park, it is a nonprofit organization that depends on individual and corporate donations, membership dues and foundation grants for its funding.
Adair always emphasizes that the center could not operate without the help of scores of volunteers. They were in evidence throughout Owl-O-Ween, sitting for hours painting children's faces, overseeing games and craft projects, helping kids decorate cookies, transporting birds and doing all those many things behind the scenes that made the festivities a success. (For information on how to volunteer, see "Nature Notes" below.)
This is a wonderful organization that I recommend to all bird and nature lovers. For information on programs; how to donate; how to Adopt a Bird, either for yourself, a child or grandchild; and visitation hours, go to: www.awrc.org
BIRMINGHAM AUDUBON PROGRAMS
The Birmingham Audubon Society has a wide-ranging slate of programs and field trips this fall and winter, including a field trip on Saturday, Nov. 19, to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur. Wheeler NWR is one of the state's best birding sites in the winter, where you can see thousands of Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl, and often a small number of rare and threatened Whooping Cranes. Birmingham Audubon field trips are free and open to non-members. See below for the web site address for further details on this and other field trips.
Birmingham Audubon also will be offering a series of classes on "Learning to Identify Birds by Their Field Marks" led by outstanding birder Greg Harber. The classes will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, 14, 21 and 28 at the Birmingham Audubon office. Registration is required. The cost is $20 for non-members; it is free for members. (Tip: Since membership is $20 per year, why not join?) Details are on the Birmingham Audubon web site.
In addition, the new schedule has been announced for the 2016-2017 Audubon Teaches Nature programs at Oak Mountain State Park. These are wonderful educational programs on a variety of nature issues, from birds of prey to alligators and other reptiles to geology and paleontology. You definitely should check out a few of the programs; I plan to attend all I can work into my schedule.
The next scheduled program will be on "Exploring Wild Alabama" with Larry Davenport and Ken Wills, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m., in the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center at Oak Mountain State Park. The programs are free, but there is the usual fee for entering the park.
For details, go to: http://birminghamaudubon.org/
ALABAMA NATURE CENTER AND NATUREPLEX
The Alabama Nature Center and NaturePlex, a project of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, holds regular nature programs on many Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. A program on Alabama reptiles is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17, at the NaturePlex facility at 3050 Lanark Road, Millbrook. Cost is $5. No registration required. For details, go to: www.alabamawildlife.org
ALABAMA WILDLIFE CENTER
The Alabama Wildlife Center in Oak Mountain State Park does yeoman's work in rehabilitating injured and abandoned native Alabama birds. The center is in need of volunteers. If you would like to consider volunteering, the next volunteer orientation is Sunday, Nov. 6, from 2 p.m. until about 4 p.m. (Orientations are usually held the first Sunday in each month except December.) The sessions are free, but the usual park fees apply.
Attending the Volunteer Orientation is recommended if you're interested in volunteering or are simply curious about AWC. At this free session, you can learn about the center's mission and history, volunteer opportunities, and ways to support AWC's work. Attendees will get a brief tour of the facility. Dress is casual, and no commitment has to be made.
Details at: www.awrc.org