A few weeks ago, Woodland Park Zoo education specialist Janel Kempf and co-workers went to the West Seattle Library to present the zoo’s Little Critters animal encounter program to a group of children, as part of the zoo’s community outreach.
Janel Kempf holding peregrine falcon D1. Photo by Kyle Doane/Woodland Park Zoo.
Before the show started, a little girl and her mom came up to Janel, holding out a bundle of brightly wrapped tissue paper.
Gifts for the raptors. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
When the team opened the gifts they discovered that the package contained some very thoughtful items for our raptors!
It turns out the four-year-old girl had come to the zoo’s raptor program at the Columbia Library a few weeks before, and had been very moved by the plight of our rescued raptors including Chouette, the northern saw-whet owl. Chouette came to us after she was struck by a vehicle while bug-hunting in the light of a street light, having suffered a concussion and an open fracture of her left wing. Her wing will never fully recover and she is now essentially flightless, so we have given her a home here at the zoo to ensure she gets the food and shelter she would struggle to get for herself in the wild.
Chouette hanging out on her perch at Woodland Park Zoo’s Raptor Center. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
The little girl’s gifts for Chouette and our other rescued birds included:
- A pair of the girl's outgrown shoes: The girl felt very hopeful that one day our injured birds would be able to fly again, but if they couldn’t fly at least they'd be comfortable walking around with the help of the girl’s tennis shoes.
- Colorful strips of fabric: These were to act as bandages for the birds’ injuries
- A sheaf of beautiful pictures: The girl had drawn these pictures to give the birds something pretty to look at while they recovered.
Artwork for the raptors. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
Janel thanked the girl profusely on the birds' behalf, and when she returned to the Raptor Center at Woodland Park Zoo, Janel made sure to show our rescued raptors their wonderful gifts.
Outgrown shoes waiting for the raptors in their indoor residence. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
The raptor keepers placed the donated shoes right next to the indoor space of D1, our rescued peregrine falcon who came to live with us after a head injury left her unable to survive on her own in the wild.
D1, Woodland Park Zoo’s 14-year-old peregrine falcon. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
One of the most powerful outcomes of our animal outreach programs is the empathy towards wildlife that we see develop in even the youngest children who participate in these up close experiences. This one girl showed us how a chance to connect with nature can be inspiring, motivating, and bring out the best in us. The keepers and volunteers who work in the Raptor Center keep the little girl’s pictures and bandages out in the office to remind them of the generosity even our youngest are capable of—a sign of hope for the future of wildlife in the hands of the next generation of conservation stewards.
Keeper Gretchen Albrecht and a spectacled owl get up close with visitors. Photo by Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.
Chouette, D1 and many other animals continue to serve as ambassadors through our outreach and school programs, and zoo visitors can connect with our raptors up close at our Raptor Center and free flight programs. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to meet our raptors and the keepers who care for them, and see what that connection inspires in you.