WILMINGTON - Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center operator Wendy Hall will be traveling to the Gallup Ridge Farm in Fort Edward this weekend for the fourth annual Winter Raptor Fest.
The festival - held Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30 - will feature educational programs and demonstrations featuring several different birds of prey. Visitors will also get a chance to meet the raptors and speak to educators. Hall will be conducting one of the educational programs, and will be accompanied by Sylvia, a bald eagle.
Sylvia is about 5 years old. In 2010, she arrived at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center, located at 977 Springfield Road in Wilmington. The bird's personal story mirrors that of the species itself, which at one time was on the brink of extinction but has successfully rebounded.
Sylvia, the bald eagle at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center (Photo — Charles Potthast Jr.)
Sylvia was born in Washington state. While only a few days old, she and her two brothers were blown out of their nest. Her brothers eventually recovered and were released to the wild. As a result of the fall, Sylvia can no longer extend one of her wings and will never be able to fly again. Lacking the ability to fly, she cannot survive on her own in the wild. Sylvia's accident might have ended tragically; instead, it resulted in a new beginning. She now serves as an educational bird touching many lives.
Wendy and her husband, Steven Hall, own and operate the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington with their son, Alex. They are all New York certified wildlife rehabilitators.
Wendy is a former geriatric nurse and finds her skills invaluable when treating injured animals. She explained it's their love of nature, and a fascination with wildlife, that attracted the couple to this type of work more than 40 years ago.
The Center's primary mission is the rehabilitation, and whenever possible, the return of injured or disabled wildlife back into the wild. It is also an educational organization providing programs and presentations working primarily with nonreleasable birds of prey.
"As a result of her injury, Sylvia is insecure about her balance while on a perch," Wendy said, "She can run, bounce and jump, but she cannot fly, which makes her susceptible to falling."
Wendy is working exclusively with Sylvia training her to be comfortable sitting on a branch during presentations.
"She is a character and extremely intelligent," Wendy said. "She loves to play hide-and-seek while we train. Sylvia and I have a bond. She knows me and she trusts me."
During training, Wendy uses treats - fish, rodents and venison - as rewards.
The bald eagle is a sacred bird in some North American cultures as well as the national bird of the U.S.
"Eagles draw people's attention," Wendy said, " They are large, and they represent freedom. This makes them a great educational bird."
As soon as Sylvia is ready, Wendy is planning to give presentations with her at local schools and other events.
In the 1950s and through the 1970s, the bald eagle population severely declined. Pesticides and the use of DDT affected the birds' ability to lay eggs and have healthy offspring. Today, the population has increased significantly. The banning of DDT in the U.S. and the simultaneous protection of their habitat are the main reasons.
Wendy said lead poisoning is now a major concern to the health of bald eagles and other raptors. The birds ingest the lead by eating game that has been shot with a lead projectile or fish that have ingested lead weights.
"Eagles have made a great comeback, but we still have a way to go," Wendy said.
Sylvia lives in an spacious outdoor enclosure that mimics her natural habitat. However, she does have one modern convenience during the winter that her bothers and sisters in the wild would be envious of: a heat lamp. Directly across from Sylvia, in an adjacent enclosure, is an immature male bald eagle that has yet to attain the classic white head, white tail feathers and yellow eyes people are accustomed to.
Wendy works with Sylvia in the enclosure and will be bringing her indoors periodically to get her comfortable with indoor presentations.
People interested in visiting Sylvia and other wildlife at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center, it is open to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Thursday to Monday.
For more information, call 855-965-3626 or visit the Center's website at adirondackwildlife.org.