Birds of Prey on display

COPPER HARBOR – The annual Migratory Bird Festival in Copper Harbor kicked off Saturday with an up-close look at some birds of prey.

Bart Kotarba, director of education and basic license rehabilitator at Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua, Wis., brought four live birds and other items, including talons and wings, to the Copper Harbor Visitors Center for his program.

The Northwoods center is a working wildlife hospital, taking in injured and orphaned animals. The main objective is returning the animals to the wild. In some cases, such as the birds Kotarba brought, the birds’ injuries mean they must remain in captivity.

The first bird Kotarba brought out, a saw-whet owl, had a birth defect that rendered it sightless in one eye, which was noticeably smaller. A smallish, brown owl, it has a call Kotarba compared to “a truck backing up.” The owl, which mostly lives in coniferous forests, prefers to nest in tree holes.

Kotarba also brought a great horned owl, which has exceptional hearing and vision. Their ears are at slightly different angles on their heads, enabling them to triangulate sound to determine a precise location.

To get an idea of a bird’s abilities, Kotarba said, look at its head. A large facial disc will indicate good hearing, while large eyes indicate good sight.

Their eyes, while large, are immobile, requiring the owl to turn its head around to see.

“When he hears something above up him, he has to crank his eyes up to look at it,” Kotarba said.

The third bird, the American kestrel, had long, pointed wings, and is capable of seeing in the ultraviolet spectrum. Unlike some of the other birds, who were more skittish, the kestrel Kotarba brought was raised around humans, and relishes their company.

The fourth, the red-tail hawk, had announced itself earlier in the presentation with several dramatic thumps against its wooden carrying case. The largest of the birds seen, its cry is used by movie producers to stand in for the considerably less majestic squawk of a more iconic bird.

“When they show an eagle, they play a red-tail hawk,” Kotarba said.

Although the red-tail hawk has as flexible a neck as other birds of prey, it doesn’t need to show it. Its forward-facing eyes enable it to see almost all the way around its head. Its vision is magnified in the center of its field of vision, allowing to it hone in on prey.

Rob Yerks of Copper City thought the presentation was enjoyable.

“We came up last year to the presentation and liked it so much we said we would come this year as well,” he said.

For future events in the festival and other information, go to