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July 30, 2009

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

With future professional options that include veterinarian, marine biologist, horse trainer… my house has seen its fair share of pets. With three kids that all want to grow up and be employed in some fashion related to the animal kingdom, I guess I should just get used to it.

Still, there is something about a child handling the razor-sharp talons of a bird of prey that makes me a bit nervous.

Thanks to a couple local animal lovers, we were selected as a host family for an immature falcon or hawk that was rescued from the streets of Memphis. There has to a be a reality television program in here somewhere, as these guys confessed that my wife was the first person that came to mind when they considered the bird's future.

Sure enough, she rushed over to the site, kids in tow, to take a look at the bird. Apparently, this feathered friend was wise enough to hide the talons, and the girls overlooked his razor-sharp beak, only seeing those puppy-like eyes that said please help me.

Initially I had little to worry about. The bird was in a box, where I assumed he would stay until he was transferred to the farm to be released. Of course, I wasn't sure how popular this idea would be, since the owners of the farm have been spending the past several years doing everything they can to improve the quail and pheasant populations. Releasing another hawk at such a site would be similar to releasing a timber wolf at the sheep farm just after the lambs are born.

Then again, grandpa has even less ability to say no to these girls than I do, so I wasn't too worried about it.

That was until I saw my oldest daughter walk into the front office with "her new pet" perched on her shoulder like a pirate's parrot. I'm not one who obsesses about my kids getting hurt, yet I must confess I was a bit uncomfortable seeing that beak inches from irreplaceable eyes, and those claws clinching a shirt sleeve fairly close to a jugular vein.

"Oh dad, relax. It doesn't hurt when he bites."

For the next two days I watched my children nurse this bird back to health, feeding him earthworms and other bugs before eventually working him up to hamburger.

By the end of day two, I was fairly comfortable with "Pecker" as he was nicknamed by my youngest daughter because he didn't really bite. He had made a couple short flights in the living room, signaling his days with us were numbered. Still he always would find his way back to perch on one of the girls' shoulders, watching television, reading a book or just playing with toys.

Finally the call of the wild was too much for the bird to ignore. While outside, he finally took flight for good, clearing the privacy fence in our back yard on his way to crash landing in a tree several blocks away. The girls checked below his landing site to make sure he had found a safe perch, and said their final goodbyes to Pecker.