Raptors for Reading

Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center visits Whitefish Community Library to promote a literary summer

By Madeleine Lamon
Cassandra Wilson, a volunteer with Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center, holds Harley, a female Harlan's Redtail Hawk, during a presentation at the Whitefish Community Library on July 12, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Splayed out on pillows, blankets and directly on the ground, a group of more than 50 children and adults gathered last week on the grassy knoll adjacent to Whitefish Community Library to marvel at and learn about wild birds.

Hosted as part of the library’s Summer Reading Challenge, the Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center’s educational program introduced audience members to a number of its raptors, eagles and owls.

The center rehabilitates injured birds of prey, often by cars, so they can return to the wild. In cases where animals are not able to fully recover, such as when the birds have debilitating wing or eye injuries, they may be transferred to the center’s educational program to be part of wildly popular community presentations.

Donning beige button-down shirts, blue jeans and thick, protective gloves, Beth Watne, the founder and executive director of the center, and Cassandra Wilson, a volunteer who has been involved with the center since 2014, displayed a number of birds to the crowd.

As attendees clambered for a spot in the shade, Watne led the presentation, informing the crowd about the birds’ lifestyles, eating habits and injuries, while Wilson circled the lawn, bird on arm, to give people a better look. Both women answered questions and did their best to keep the magnificent creatures cool in the summer heat.

Fern Cyr, a resident of Calgary, Canada, who was visiting her grandchildren in town, said she was impressed by the “phenomenal” presentation, specifically citing her admiration for the presenters’ ability to get the small children to pay attention.

“It’s an amazing way to learn a tremendous amount,” she said.

Last year, the nonprofit took in 94 raptors, 16 eagles and 133 non-raptors, and completed 161 educational programs for approximately 4,630 adults and 5,004 children. According to Watne, Wild Wings volunteers have given 62 presentations so far in 2018.

Center volunteers have been presenting their educational program at the library for about five years.

The library partners with local organizations like the recovery center and North Valley Music School to “introduce the library to kids who think, ‘Maybe all they have are books and boy that can be boring!’” Joey Kositzky, the library director, said.

The events also bring attention to its Summer Reading Challenge, which aims to encourage kids to read even when they are out of school. Kozitsky added that each participant receives a reading log and marks down the amount of time they spend reading. Throughout the summer, kids are eligible to receive incentive prizes and can win drawings at the end of the challenge in August for larger gifts. She noted that about 170 kids have signed up to participate in the challenge so far.

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