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Birds of Prey Day: The Year of the Bird

Our first ever Birds of Prey Day event is this Sunday, April 22. Coincidentally, this year also happens to be the Year of the Bird! The Audubon Society and National Geographic, along with over 50 other partners, have declared 2018 the Year of the Bird in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This landmark legislation has saved millions of birds, but is now in danger of losing its ability to protect them. Read on to learn more about this vitally important conservation law!

Birds of Prey Day: Why the MBTA Matters

What is the MBTA?

In 1918, U.S. Congress created the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as part of a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada). The two countries agreed to stop all hunting of migratory birds that are beneficial or harmless to man. The treaty existed because several species of bird were hunted to the point of near extinction. Eventually the U.S. signed similar treaties with Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Over time, the law has evolved to include almost every species of bird native to the United States. Now, the law also covers incidental bird deaths caused by industries such as wind farms, oil and gas companies, and electricity companies. Before, industries like these had been responsible for millions of easily preventable bird deaths every year. As a result of the MBTA, many companies now work with wildlife programs and conservation groups to develop simple, cost-effective ways to limit incidental deaths.

Why is it important?

The MBTA has already saved many birds from extinction. Notable examples include the Snowy Egret, the Bald Eagle, and the Sandhill Crane. All of these species were brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the protections put in place by the MBTA. However, as new technologies and industries develop, birds face new threats to their well-being. Open oil pits, wind turbines, and cell phone towers are just a few of the modern challenges birds encounter. The implementation of the MBTA must continue to evolve to protect birds from these hazards. Currently, a bill is circulating in Congress that if passed, would no longer hold industries accountable for incidental bird deaths. In short, this bill would effectively take the teeth out of the MBTA, putting birds at risk. In order to continue protecting them, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act must be properly enforced and supported. You can find more information here.

Even though we don’t participate in any bird-specific conservation programs (although we do have three species of birds here), wildlife conservation is very important to us here at the zoo; our very own great horned owl, Darwin, is a rescue! As such, we’re very excited to show him off during our Birds of Prey Day event so that we can bring attention to conservation efforts for all animals.

Birds of Prey Day: Meet the Masters

We’re hosting our first ever Birds of Prey Day on April 22, 2018! And while birds and reptiles and are in fact closely related (see how here), we’re relying on the experts to share information on these fascinating creatures! Read on to learn about Master falconers and our special guests for this fun and educational event.

What does it take to become a Master falconer?

Recently added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity, falconry is the ancient art of hunting with birds of prey. For those who practice it, it is more than a mere hobby—it’s a way of life. Becoming a falconer is no small feat.

If someone is interested in becoming a falconer, first, they must find a General or Master falconer willing to sponsor them. Then, they must train as an Apprentice for two years. When they have finished their apprenticeship, they are able to become a General falconer. After at least five years of being a General falconer, they are finally eligible to become a Master falconer. Throughout this seven year journey, they must pass rigorous exams and maintain strict regulations regarding the care of their birds.

Those who become Master falconers are truly dedicated to birds of prey.  We are lucky to have not just one, but two of these experts joining us for Birds of Prey Day! Learn more about our Master falconers, Michael Kuriga and Patrick Miller.

Meet the Masters

Michael Kuriga

For close to forty years, Master falconer Michael W. Kuriga has been training and hunting with a variety of raptors. Practicing the ancient art of falconry has been his passion that has taken him all over the world in pursuit of this noble art form. Michael has lectured to thousands of people throughout the United States and has given talks in the United Kingdom, and The Czech Republic. During his presentation, he will share some of his many adventures concerning Eagles and hawks. He will discuss their ecology, physiology, the current raptor he is handling, and the birds that he has flown. He will also tell stories of the many interesting individuals that share his love of raptors.

Patrick Miller of ZooAmerica

Patrick Miller is currently a Senior Education Specialist in the ZooAmerica education department and a PA licensed Master falconer.  He has been with ZooAmerica for over 13 years. His main responsibility is caring for their education collection, which consists of over 70 different animals.  He travels all over the state to give talks on various topics, such as: endangered species, native PA wildlife, birds of prey, and more. He has presented at The Hershey Falconry Experience for the past 9 years. Aside from the Falconry Experience, he oversees the husbandry of all raptors used for that program. He is currently the President of The Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust where he has served on its board for over 4 years.  Raptors have completely taken over his life. He loves everything about these amazing creatures and what they are capable of.

See them in action at Birds of Prey Day!

Come see these Master falconers and their birds in person on April 22, 2018! To learn more about this exciting event and purchase tickets, click here.