PELL CITY – Alabama Wildlife Center Education Program Coordinator Lauren Muncher said the best part of her job is releasing birds back into the wild.
“We release about 2,000 birds each year,” she said. “We have the highest release rate in the country.”
Muncher captivated a large audience at Thursday night’s Logan Martin Lake Protection Association quarterly meeting at the Pell City Civic Center.
Muncher travels the state reaching out and educating the public about the birds of Alabama. Many of those species live around Logan Martin Lake.
Each year, Muncher participates in as many as 300 education programs, reaching about 70,000 people in Alabama.
The Alabama Wildlife Center rescues birds from the wild, many of which have suffered injury. In most cases, the center nurses the birds back to health and releases them back into the wild.
The center is a nonprofit organization headquartered at Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham.
“About half the birds we get are baby song birds,” she said.
Muncher said 90 percent of the injured birds the center receives were struck by vehicles. Some of the birds cannot return to the wild because of their injuries and become a part of the center’s Education Program.
Muncher and bird handler Mary Stockard brought a few of their feathered friends to the LMLPA quarterly meeting.
Stockard reached into large box containers and surprised guests with different species of birds and raptors. She pulled the birds, one-by-one, out of their individual travel container.
“She can’t fly or see very well,” Muncher said, as Stockard carried a Eastern Hybrid Screech Owl around the large room of people. “She’s really special.”
She said the small owl was hit by a car and is permanently blind in one eye. The bird also suffered a broken wing.
“That’s why she lives with us,” Muncher said.
When people throw out food from their vehicles, it attracts rodents, which attract raptors, like owls, falcons, hawks and other species of birds. That’s why many of these birds of prey are struck by vehicles.
“This is a really cool bird,” Muncher said of a Merlin Falcon that Stockard held in her gloved hand. “It is built for speed.”
She said some falcons can travel up to 200 mph.
Muncher said the falcon they brought to Pell City on Thursday was accidently shot by a duck hunter.
The large Barred Owl shown to the audience has been with the center for 16 years. It is the owl many people hear in the distance at night.
“They are found around woods and water,” Muncher said. “They eat a lot of crayfish.”
She got one turkey hunter in the audience to demonstrate the Barred Owl hoot, hoot, hoot-hoot call.
“This is Alabama’s largest hawk,” Muncher told the crowd as Stockard carried a sleek, beautiful Red Tail Hawk around the room, where people got a closer look at the majestic bird. She said Red Tail Hawks have keen eyesight, although this hawk was blind in one eye.
“They have to have perfect vision to survive,” Muncher said.
The last bird she introduced to the audience was a Great Horned Owl with its earlike tufts.
“They love skunk,” she said.
Needless to say, the Great Horned Owl doesn’t have a sense of smell. It is this bird’s superb hearing that separates it from the rest of the birds.
Muncher asked the audience to guess how much the bird weighed.
Many guesses ranged from 5-20 pounds, but the bird actually weighs only 3.75. The 20,000 feathers it wears make the bird appear much bigger than it is. It is also a super strong bird.
“She can kill something up to 15 pounds,” Muncher said.
Muncher said the Alabama Wildlife Center is opened seven days a week, between 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and welcomes visitors.