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Local News

Museum’s Birds of Prey Exhibit Almost Ready to Fly

The Museum of Natural History and Eyes in the Sky have raised more than half of the funds needed for the aviary project

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History soon may add a new birds of prey aviary to its exhibit, as fundraisers announced Saturday that they’ve raised more than half of the funds required for the project.

The plan is to tear down a dilapidated shed and garage behind the museum’s MacVeagh House and build a 600-square-foot birds of prey exhibit in its place. The proposed facility will cost $150,000 and house up to six nonreleasable birds in separate enclosures. Most of the birds have sustained injuries, which make them incapable of surviving on their own in the wild.

The site will serve as an educational tool for the public, museum officials said.

“This is really going to be an asset to the entire community,” Santa Barbara Audubon Society board member Dolores Pollock said. The Audubon Society is the parent company of Eyes in the Sky, the group that cares for the birds. In 2005, Eyes in the Sky partnered with the Museum of Natural History, at 2559 Puesta del Sol Road.

Eyes in the Sky relies heavily on volunteers. The group has four birds that will occupy the new facility: a blind western screech owl named Tecolita, an American kestrel with an injured wing, a disabled red-tail hawk named Ivan and its most famous attraction, Max, the great horned owl. Max has been “humanized,” having been with humans nearly all his life, according to Max’s caretaker, Gabriele Drozdowski. She said Max could be harmed if he was returned to the wild.

Max is instrumental in raising young owls by helping feed them and not exposing them to human contact, Drozdowski said. He’s the proud stepfather of 73 owls — all whom have been released into the wild during the past 11 years.

Max, a great horned owl, is instrumental in helping the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Eyes in the Sky raise young owls
Max, a great horned owl, is instrumental in helping the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Eyes in the Sky raise young owls. (Adam Lewis photo)

Eyes in the Sky hopes the new facility will help educate children. “We want to light that spark in children,” Pollock said. “If they get a taste of (nature), I think they’ll really like it.”

The project faced some obstacles before getting the necessary construction permits, since the facility would occupy what could have been deemed historical land. Once the Historic Landmarks Commission signed off on the plan earlier this year, the Audubon Society began raising funds for the building, Pollock said.

“There were times when it looked like it (would) never happen,” said Dr. Karl Hutterer, executive director of the Museum of Natural History.

Hutterer said he’s “thrilled” that more than $80,000 has been raised and called the project a “win-win situation” for all involved. He also said the land donated to build the museum was originally intended to be a bird sanctuary.

“We want to bring people back into nature. We’re fighting what has become a nature deficit disorder,” he joked.

Gabriele Drozdowski is the caretaker for Max, who she says has been
Gabriele Drozdowski is the caretaker for Max, who she says has been “humanized.” (Adam Lewis photo)

Eyes in the Sky hopes to start its three-month project this fall so it doesn’t interrupt the bird’s natural breeding season; however, that time frame depends on the success of fundraising efforts

An anonymous donor told the group that if it gets a single donation of $10,000 or combined donations of $25,000 by Labor Day, he or she will contribute $10,000 to the project. “We’re really on that ... we’ve raised $6,000 so far,” Audubon Society president Darlene Chirman said of the $25,000 goal.

Eyes in the Sky also hopes to sell the naming rights of the building for $50,000, and rights to name each individual enclosure, starting at $10,000. The facility will be known as the Audubon Aviary if no donor is found.

The birds keep a busy schedule, often attending summer camp programs and class presentations for interaction with youngsters. “We try and stay really busy,” Drozdowski said.

The birds will be on display next week at La Arcada on State Street in an event sponsored by Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment.

Officials urge anyone who finds an injured bird to contact the Wildlife Care Network or a local veterinarian for assistance.

Noozhawk intern Kenny Lindberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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