Amazing Kids! Magazine

A Visit to Morningstar Wildlife Rehabilitation

By Charlotte McCombs, age 10, Arkansas

 

It was raining when we drove up the driveway to the Morningstar Wildlife Rehabilitation in Gravette, AR, almost an hour away from where we lived. I saw a goose and a duck squawking over by some pens. I had been looking forward to coming here for a long time. It seemed so interesting! I had my camera and notebook at the ready.

The first thing we saw was several barred owls inside a caged structure. There were all in a row on the nearest limb, but when we got closer, they all flew to the limb farthest in the back.

Lynn Sciumbato came out to meet us in her jacket with the hood up and her high rubber boots. Lynn cares for all the injured birds. She told us that she hoped all the barred owls inside the first structure would be released awfully soon. They were all staring at us with their dark brown eyes. They looked very beautiful. I longed to touch one. Lynn said, “People call them ‘hoot owls,’ even though they don’t really hoot.” The only way barred owls can communicate is by their loud, piercing call. This is because they live deep in the woods, and they cannot see each other through the leafy trees.

On our way to the next structure, it started to rain harder. We were all soaking wet. I saw four little white crosses staked in the ground. I did not want to ask Lynn what they were, because I guessed they were the graves of birds that she had loved.

When we got to the next structure, Lynn said, “This is a great-horned owl. Maybe we can get her to come closer.” Lynn went inside the pen and the owl hooted, making us jump. The owl clumsily flew toward us. She had an injured wing, Lynn told us. “Barred owls and great horned owls look the same size,” Lynn said, “even though I’m sure the great horned owl weighs a lot more because it has a lot of muscle and a thin layer of feathers. Barred owls have fewer muscles and a big fluffy layer of feathers over them.”

I got a great photo of the owl with his big, yellow eyes shining at my lens.

In a smaller cage separate from the other birds, there was a single black vulture. I thought it looked a lot nicer than regular vultures, knowing that they eat dead animals! “At first, I named this bird ‘Stevie Wonder,’” said Lynn, “because it had a big tuft of feathers of its head, like Stevie Wonder’s pompadour. But then, it laid eggs! So I renamed it ‘Stevie Nicks’.”

Lynn told us that when the colonists first saw vultures in America, they called them “buzzards,” because they reminded them of a European hawk with the same name. This is why some Americans still call vultures “buzzards.”

Next, we met Joey, a 24-year-old barred owl. He is the bird Lynn brings to schools and libraries sometimes for educational programs. Lynn said, “He does not look normal now, because he just finished taking a bath.” His feathers were very ruffled and dripping. “Since he has been alive for 24 years, I am training another barred owl to replace him for the shows.” I could tell Lynn felt a little sad saying this. Lynn did an impression of a barred owl’s call, and Joey immediately started to hoot back.

We then went farther onto her land, where I saw a bigger pen in the distance. We went around it and Lynn said, “Inside this pen is a bald eagle.”

I asked, “Bald eagles only winter here, don’t they? So, what do you do when you have to keep a bird that winters here over a summer?”

Lynn told me that she tries to release the birds before the time they are not meant to be here comes.

I was very excited about seeing a bald eagle very close up, and I was excited to get a photo of one. I had seen them before, but only a few times and from very far away.

I peered inside the cage. In the very back of it, I saw a big brown bird with a shocking white head. It squawked. Lynn went inside and the eagle flew a lot closer. I was a little scared to get a good photo of it, but I did get a decent one. We wondered why the bird’s beak and legs were white, when in the bird guides they are yellow. Lynn said, “This bald eagle only eats white rats. The bald eagles in the bird books eat fish, which causes their legs and beaks to turn yellow.” I found that very interesting! While I was taking a photo of the bald eagle, a barred owl flew right over my head. I was scared it was going to perch on me!

It was still raining when Lynn led us to the peregrine falcon. It looked straight at me. What a beautiful animal! I had never seen one of them before. We rarely get them where we live in Arkansas. I wondered what the story was behind this bird arriving here, so we asked. Lynn said, “This bird was banded in Alaska last November. It arrived here several months later, after being hit on Interstate 540.” That means the falcon traveled from Alaska to Arkansas in a very short time. Lynn told us that “peregrine” means “traveler.” Banding is when small bands are attached to bird’s legs to help scientists learn where they go during different times of the year.

Cars have hit 85% of the birds that get sent to Lynn. Lynn also said, “…spring is the time of year I am the busiest, because many baby birds in that time fall out of the nest.”

Another bird I had never seen before and was showed here was a barn owl. Its wings were sprawled out against the wall. I got a photo of the bird showing off its wings. In another photo I took, the barn owl’s heart-shaped ghostly face was glaring right at me.

The barn owl pen was the last stop on our tour. I admire the way Lynn cares about these birds and what she is doing. She has done this for 30 years, and I like to think how many birds she has saved throughout those years. I asked her how she feels when she releases one of her birds. Lynn said, “The birds that get released are a success. And the ones that have to stay are the failures.” She said what she feels when she lets one go is happiness.

Before we left, she told us the story of a female great-horned owl that used to live in her intensive care pen. (Great horned owls don’t need deep woods to live in. They are the most common North American owls.) This female still comes to the pen and eats the white rats Lynn puts out for her injured owls. Lynn told us that she usually has no idea what happens to the birds after she releases them. All she can do is hope they’re fine. But this time, she knows that the female is part of a nesting pair that lives near her, which makes her feel confident about the other birds she releases.

When we drove back home, I looked at all the photos I took. It made me happy to see all these happy birds living with her, and to know that she will never give up on any of them.

4 comments

  1. Kathleen Hale /

    What a beautifully written article. Your skill at conveying a vivid picture of what you experienced is quite extraordinary. Thank you!

  2. Mira Brock /

    This article was really good. It made me want to go there, too. I hope I see all the birds there before I have to leave! I want to be an animal rescuer when I’m a grown up.

  3. Tracie Slattery /

    This is a beautifully written piece on the wildlife rescue center. I am impressed that such a young author can report a story both sensitive and thoughtful of her subject in so mature a voice. I look forward to reading more of her stories because the world needs good writers!

  4. Cheryl Putnam /

    This article is well written and taught me a lot about birds and the amazing facility in our area. I would like to visit this myself and get a chance to see the birds there now.