A part of the many programs Chewonki runs is the Outreach/Travelling Natural History Program. Outreach takes in animals for a number of reasons: animals that have been injured, wild animals that have been raised by humans and thus cannot take care of themselves, or in the case of illegal pets, animals that have been confiscated from abusive owners. Working in the Outreach lab is considered by many to be one of the best work programs that you can be assigned on any given afternoon. I’ve only worked in the lab during a work program once but I spend my first period free there every Thursday morning. A typical morning consists of taking mealworms (small beetle larvae commonly used for feed) and putting twenty or so of them in a dish. I then bring them to Maeve, our Big Brown Bat, and hand feed her 5 or 6 of them. Once she’s finished her meal, I lock up the cage and head over to Fizzy the Water Dragon. I fill a shallow tub with 90 degree water and set him in it, where he swims around slowly in his weekly bath. I, and usually one of the Outreach programs staff, then remove all the hides, logs and various other parts of his cage and clean them with warm water and bleach. After rinsing down all his “toys” we put them back into his cage, take Fizzy out of his bath, and put him back in his home.
At the Outreach Lab there is an extensive aviary, where we house a Golden Eagle, a Bald Eagle, two Red-tailed Hawks, two Barred Owls, a Screech Owl, Two Great Horned Owls, a Northern Saw-whet Owl and a Merganser Duck. This week, both in the morning and again in the afternoon when I came in for work program, the focus was on birds. Leah (one of the Outreach staff) and I took all of the mice from the day before out of the birds cages. Then, we took mice from the freezer, injected them with water to rehydrate them, and then gave them to the birds. I got to feed Othello, one of the two red-tailed Hawks, who is blind in one eye—the reason why we take care of him here at Chewonki. That afternoon I returned with Aidan, another student, where we, along with Emma and Leah from Outreach, thoroughly scrubbed all of the birds cages and fed the birds for the second time that day. The birds were skittish and nervous around us at first but as long as we stayed quiet and moved slowly, they eventually ignored us. Wokawson, our fully-grown Bald Eagle, was by far the jumpiest bird, repeatedly running and hopping (she has a broken wing) from one end of her cage to another as she tried to avoid us. Our calmest bird was Acadia, our 5 inch tall Saw-Whet Owl who didn’t so much as bat an eyelash while we soaked her cage and even allowed us to put her mouse right at her feet without complaint.
My favorite bird is Othello. I spent an hour in his cage sitting silently and watching him (and occasionally drawing) during art class. He is a truly beautiful animal with his fierce demeanor and (although this is surely anthropomorphizing him) seemingly wounded pride, carefully covered up, caused by his injury. My other two favorites animals are Maeve the bat and a brand new Opossum who may or may not be named Belle (I’m in favor of the name personally). With everything from turtles to alligators, birds to spiders, and bats to snakes, there is an animal for everybody in Outreach.