Animals are link between humans, nature

Ariel - WERC

For those wild animals that have been injured or orphaned, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center strives to mend their bodies and psyches and return them to their habitats, healthy and free. Unfortunately, other animals have suffered permanent injuries and their chances for long-term survival are negligible. But after considering certain conditions, such as the animal’s disposition, age and injuries, some of them may get a second chance and become a candidate for educational programs.
Ariel the merlin is one of these fortunates. She was found in April 2001 on the ground in Santa Clara with a badly dislocated wing. After several months of care, she was transferred to WERC to evaluate her releasabillity. WERC’s examination of Ariel’s wing indicated it did not heal as well as she needed for her to be able to migrate and hunt successfully in the wild. After being certified healthy and determined appropriate as an educational animal in March 2002, WERC received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have her join WERC. For the past 12 years she has been enthralling and educating children and adults in school classrooms and at public events.
Ariel is now at least 14 years old. Since the life expectancy of a merlin in the wild is 12 years, Ariel is considered a stately senior citizen. Due to worsening arthritis in her right wing, she has begun her well-deserved retirement.
Caring for an educational animal—whether bird, mammal or reptile—is a long-term, immense, yet rewarding responsibility. These animals may live for many years (WERC’s 6-year-old great horned owl, Luna, can be expected to live for another 20 years) and need to be provided shelter, high-quality food and regular health care for the rest of their lives.
Though they have erroneously been called pigeon hawks, merlins are true falcons. Its species name “columbarius” may mean “pigeon keeper” but in truth, it’s a pigeon eater. The 10- to 12-inch long merlin also preys on other small and medium-sized birds, which it stuns and catches in mid-air. An equal opportunity hunter, the merlin also eats large flying insects, bats, nestling birds and small rodents it finds around forest openings, grasslands, shorelines and open areas.
Merlins are migratory and range throughout most of the northern hemisphere. In America, they winter in the western United States and Central America. During the spring and summer breeding season they can be found further north in Alaska and most of Canada. Merlins don’t build their own nests. Instead, they take over the old nests of other raptors or crows, re-lining the nests with bark and feathers.
Though the small raptor is not named after Merlin, the magician of Arthurian legends, it is serendipitous that a group of merlin falcons is called an “illusion.” (The name “merlin” actually originates from esmerillon, the old French name for the species.) Merlins, called “ladyhawks” during the medieval era, were popular through the ages with falconers and especially with European noblewomen. Empress Catherine the Great of Russia used merlins for sport to hunt skylarks and Mary Queen of Scots was allowed to fly a favorite merlin from her window during her imprisonment.
This synergetic interaction between raptors and humans continues, not just with falconers but with non-releasable educational birds such as Ariel. These beautiful animals, still wild in spirit, are truly ambassadors for wildlife, providing a link between humans and nature, and helping us to understand their place in our world and our place in theirs.

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