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Birds of prey on display at learning center

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The West Valley Outdoor Learning Center will host a “Raptor Rampage” open house Saturday, and, no, that doesn’t have anything to do with dinosaurs.

Instead the center will showcase its eight birds of prey. The birds, which include falcons and owls, are known as raptors.

“We thought we would take a spin on educating kids about the other raptors that are still on our planet,” said the outdoor learning center’s director, Jami Ostby-Marsh. “We’re also going to meet the raptors up close.”

The open house is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the center, located at 8508 E. Upriver Drive. The event will also include a scavenger hunt and an owl craft. There will be a fossil replica of a dinosaur for those interested in the kind of raptors featured in the Jurassic Park movies. The suggested donation for admission is $5.

The hawks and owls that call the Outdoor Learning Center home all have injuries that won’t allow them to be released back into the wild. “They all have permanent injuries,” Ostby-Marsh said. “We don’t do rehabbing.”

Some birds were shot, others damaged their wings by flying into objects. Several of the birds, such as Orville the barred owl and Arden the red-tailed hawk, were named after the towns they were found in. There is also a small American kestrel falcon, a screech owl, a rough legged hawk and a pair of great horned owls.

The majestic looking great horned owls are widely found in the area, Ostby-Marsh said. “They’re very common, very adaptable to neighborhoods,” she said.

There’s also Stan, a Harris’s Hawk normally found in the desert. He was a falconer’s bird and came to the center after he was injured. Stan was raised by people and has imprinted on humans and loves attention, said Ostby-Marsh.

“He’s the most social and shows off in front of people and kids,” she said.

Ostby-Marsh said she has a special place in her heart for Harris’s Hawks. “They’re my favorite,” she said. “They hunt in packs, and the women lead the packs.”

Stan has a few special features in his enclosure to help him deal with the cold winter weather, including two heaters. The barn that houses the birds of prey is kept unheated and most of the birds prefer it that way, Ostby-Marsh said.

“They are a wild animal,” she said. “We try to keep it as natural as possible. Everybody else likes the cold.”

Despite the variety of birds calling the center home, Ostby-Marsh said there’s one more she’d like to have if the opportunity arises. “We really would like a barn owl because they’re so cool,” she said.

Though the raptors will be the focus of the open house, people will be free to check out the other areas of the center. A new iguana enclosure was recently completed, and there are other reptiles and several tortoises that call the center home.

There will be a tree-planting at noon Saturday in honor of former volunteer Erik Bruhjell, a Gonzaga University student who died in a car crash this summer.

Ostby-Marsh said Bruhjell had a big impact on her and on the animals and had a love for nature.

“The kid was a light,” she said.

There’s also a community service aspect to the open house for those interested in helping out. People are invited to bring their work gloves and help the center create a sensory trail for children who have autism.

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