Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Callaway Gardens - Birds of Prey

In Georgia for the Christmas season, we were delighted to visit the famous Callaway Gardens.  Callaway Gardens is best known for their enormous display of over 20,000 beautiful azaleas.  Some spring I would love to see them all in bloom!  In winter, however, the main attraction of Callaway Gardens is their holiday light show, Fantasy in Lights, a five mile stretch of various holiday scenes made up of over 8 million lights and accompanied by music. 

My two and four year old girls were very excited when they found out we were going to a light show.  We arrived a few hours before nightfall so that we could see what else the gardens offered before driving through the lights.  I wanted to see what winter gardens they had - most likely located in the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center - but for some reason looking at plants was low on my kids' list of things to do.

Aha, some winter flowers at the famous Callaway Gardens!
I managed to see at least a few flowering bushes - flowering quince, I believe - on the way to the first event of the afternoon, the Birds of Prey show.  Callaway Gardens has about a dozen different birds that rotate in their shows, and during our show, four beautiful birds were displayed.

Cedar, a Great Horned Owl, sits on the glove of a trainer at Callaway Gardens
Each bird was allowed to fly around the small amphitheater while the trainer expounded on its traits.

Great Horned Owl in flight
A few months ago, a man came to the place where my mom worked to ask if he could use the roof of the tall building to capture a hawk for a Bird of Prey show.  Thankfully, they told him no.  Capturing a wild raptor is not only sad, but also usually illegal.  The birds at Callaway Gardens are all birds that have been rehabilitated after getting hurt or are in some way unable to survive in the wild due to well-meaning people finding them and 'rescuing' them. 

This Red-tailed Hawk is blind in one eye.
We often see hawks like this Red-tailed Hawk flying around our area in North Carolina on a clear day, looking for prey.  This might be why I see many more birds at my bird feeder on cloudy days..

The red tail feathers for which the Red-tailed Hawk is named.
It was fascinating to learn that not only do hawks see much better than humans do, they also see faster.  To us, the wings of a flying hummingbird are just a blur, but a hawk can see and register each wing beat.  All the better to hunt with, my dear..

Guinevere, a Red-tailed Hawk at Callaway Gardens
After being named, Guinevere was found to actually be a male bird.
Most hawks are solitary hunters.  However, at the Birds of Prey show we had the fortune of seeing a Harris's Hawk, a type of hawk that hunts in packs.

Rohmann, a Harris's Hawk at Callaway Gardens
Harris's Hawks, native in the Southwest, are fairly social birds and often live and hunt in family groups.  Because of this cooperative hunting, they can take down larger animals such as jackrabbits.

Harris's Hawk
The last bird to be shown was a surprisingly handsome Black Vulture.

Vinnie the Vulture, a Black Vulture at Callaway Gardens
Vultures and other scavengers actually play a very important and much-needed role in the ecosystem.  They keep the environment free of carcasses as well as limit the spread of many diseases.  The stomach acid of vultures is impressively corrosive and can kill germs such as botulism, anthrax, and even HIV, according to the bird's handler.

Vultures get a bad rap, but they are actually play a very important part in the ecosystem.
So it would seem that nothing could kill a vulture, right?  

Sadly, several types of vultures in southeast Asia have become nearly EXTINCT in just the past 10 - 15 years due to a drug called Diclofenac, which is used as a common pain-killer and anti-inflammatory for humans and animals.  It is often used in cattle to reduce joint pain in order to keep them able to work for longer - however, it causes acute kidney failure of the vultures who eat the carcasses.  

Thankfully, the Indian government has finally recently banned the drug for animals, and Nepal and Pakistan are following suit.  Unfortunately, it will be some years before the vulture population totally recovers.

Black Vulture in flight
For more great information about some different birds in the Birds of Prey show, as well as to see what Callaway Gardens is like in the spring, check out Southern Meadows, a great Georgian gardening blog site.

Next blog post... Callaway Gardens' tropical butterfly house!


  1. WOW! Vinnie has got to be my fav' bird here and what amazing & interesting facts about their stomach acids...beautiful photos xx

  2. Thanks for sharing these lovely photos. I really enjoyed seeing these creatures up close, because I rarely get the chance to see them at such close range. Awesome!

  3. Beautiful. Birds of prey are such magnificent creatures. Glad to hear they finally figured out what the cause of the vulture decline was. Years ago, I had read about their decline, which was quite alarming.

  4. We visited Calloway Gardens in February, last year. No azaleas to see, but the winter landscape was beautiful. We missed seeing the birds of prey. I appreciate your informative post! We have several red shoulder hawks and barred owls that live on our property, and it is always a joy to see them. Hearing them, however, can sometimes be unsettling!

  5. So glad that you made it to Callaway. Every season has something new to offer. It is such a spectacular place. Did you go to the Butterfly House as well? I never made it to their light show but apparently it was rated in the top 10 places to see lights by National Geographic! Your post is very informative and your captures of the birds are excellent!

  6. They are gorgeous. Would love to see this birds in my garden :)

  7. Beautiful Indie. These birds are amazing and it is great they rehabilitate them. We have a similar organization here too. When I do my Master Gardening lectures at the Eco bazaars, it is usually in conjunction with the animal rehabilitators. I am not sure why they pair us, but I like that they do. I found an injured owl once and took it to them. He was made healthy and released. It was such a nice feeling seeing him go back to the wild. You photos are wonderful of the big birds.

  8. Hi Indie, i love the unique positions you posted, but most especially the owl in flight. I haven't seen something like that, it looks like a scary propeller!

  9. Vinnie wins my vote, I have never seen such a 'cute' vulture !

  10. Your photos are amazing!! and I am adding Callaway Gardens to my must-see list :-)

  11. I have never seen a Harris's Hawk - Rohmann is very striking, indeed!

  12. Love the bird portraits. Great post! That's sad about the vultures dying from the joint pain drug given to cattle. Such disrespect for animals and greed for profit. I am glad to hear that the Indian government has banned the drug ... Fascinating info, too, about the hawk seeing faster than humans. It never occurred to me that that was possible.

  13. The Vinnie photos are mesmerizing. I learned a lot from your post!

  14. Thank you, I learned so much as well! It's shocking to hear that in some places, a species population has declined by as much as 99% in just the last 15 years! Another problem is that the drug Diclofenac is so cheap and considered so safe for humans and livestock, it is hard to find a replacement drug. Even now that it is banned for animal use, many pharmacies in Southeast Asia still sell it as such. The word is only slowly getting out.

    I never thought about how valuable vultures were to the environment before. Thank you, Vinnie the Vulture, for teaching me so much!

  15. Great photos and fascinating info!


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