How about a (real) animal birthday party?

Owl in a day's work

There she was—my tiny kid—face to face with a bird of prey. She was over the moon happy about it too—she’s crazy about raptors. So I knew I had made the right choice when faced with planning with her January birthday.

Let’s face it winter birthdays stink. You never know if you’re going to get storm clouds and rain or crisp cool weather and blue skies. And, planning birthday parties for kids is especially difficult after the holidays—people are still reeling from the onslaught of winter parties, obligatory gift-giving and an already hectic shopping season.

People just want to rest. But not a soon-to-be 5 year old—they want their party rain or shine. And why shouldn’t they? After all it’s their day.

And that’s when it hit me—WERC—our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. It was perfect, my daughter loves learning about animals, but did they do parties?!

I always like to try to think of something different. And, for a January birthday that’s a tough sell. None of those germ fest 5,000 bounce places or kid mazes or cages where they corral your party and lead you from room to room in an unfavorably compressed amount of time. I mean it has its advantages—there’s no cleanup for you.

I was honestly thrilled with myself for the idea and I embarked on the journey to see if it was possible. Did I mention my daughter is crazy for animals? She loves shows like Wild Kratts. And, what’s not to love—it’s educational, inoffensive to anyone except for its protagonists Donita Donata, Gourmand and Zac Varmatec.

I contacted Anna Venneman, WERC’s educational outreach coordinator and learned they do presentations in schools. “We have reached 2,000 children and adults in Santa Clara County thanks to a grant from Open Space Authority, which helped us spread to other areas outside of Morgan Hill, Gilroy and South San Jose,” says Venneman.

But they also will do presentations outside of school—and few people request them for parties. And, WERC presentations cover up to 35 kids—none of that $10 extra for each kid over the first 12. And, for its live animal program, you get your choice of Feather, Fur and Scale; Birds of Prey; Silent Hunters or Stayin’ Alive.

Since my kid loves raptors, we went the with Birds of Prey themed presentation. WERC offers a choice of a turkey vulture (for larger spaces or outdoor locations), two owls or an owl and a falcon. For my daughter’s party, WERC brought three of their animal ambassadors including a great horned owl, “Luna,” a western screech owl, “Owlivia,” and a peregrine falcon, “Horus.”

The presentation was a hit. It was enjoyed by parents and kids alike. WERC even brought owl pellets with an accompanying diagram for everyone to dissect and see what an owl might have eaten for lunch.

Venneman and her partner also brought along other educational exhibits with them, including claws, bones and a variety of wings. She says the work helping the animals and producing the educational programs is very rewarding.

“I love being able to see animals up close and get to help them.” says Venneman. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing an animal return back into the wild.”

What I loved about this whole idea was that it was fun and educational. And, it is a great opportunity to support the ongoing efforts that WERC does to rehabilitate injured animals and return them to the wild when possible. “Scheduling educational programs or by sending donations is the best way to help WERC out,” says Venneman. “During the busy season (Spring) people can even help out by volunteering.” In lieu of gifts we requested donations to WERC, which will hopefully help in its search for a new home for the program.

“We hope once we find a new property and all the logistics work out, we would be able to be open to the public,” says Venneman. “We would also have a separate section for rehabilitation so people could bring us animals that are injured, sick or orphaned and we would have a place to rehabilitate them that is away from the public so they do not become accustom to human interaction.”

“WERC has a passion for wildlife and we want to help lessen the impact of negative human interactions with our wild neighbors,” adds Venneman.

We thoroughly enjoyed this experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting birthday activity that is educational and benefits animals and the community.
Debra Eskinazi is the editor of South Valley and San Benito magazines.