Ray Duckler: For Concord, Audubon Society is a feather in city’s cap
Bird lovers flocked to the New Hampshire Audubon’s Concord headquarters yesterday to celebrate 100 years of all things birds.
Near a table of cakes, baked to resemble our feathered friends in their natural habitats, stood Cynthia Neale, her blue eyes, blue scarf and blue shirt reflecting her deep passion for bluebirds.
Down the hall, in a pair of rooms deep within the headquarters, Ruth Smith, the centennial coordinator, played guitar and sang songs about birds to children.
Next to her, Missy Fraser wore a blue jay outfit and flapped her wings, adding color to Smith’s music.
And Kevin Wall fed a red-tailed hawk – a real bird this time – chunks of mice as it gripped the glove he wore for protection against razor-sharp claws. He nervously displayed its 4-foot wingspan, reminding families of nature’s awesome power.
The hawk had no comment, but gratitude had to be part of its feathery mix, because this organization has been helping birds for the past century.
It started in Massachusetts, aimed at sending a message to the women of the day who had gaudy taste.
Stop wearing hats with feathers in them!
“Most people don’t know that back in the late-1800s, fashion called for ladies hats to be decorated with feathers,” said Smith, who lives in Canterbury and joined the society 30 years ago.
“Birds were being killed by the hundreds of thousands. It was Victorian times and fashion was over the top, from architecture to outfits. Sometimes they used entire birds, because ladies liked putting them on their heads.”
So, late in the 19th century, a New York City native and Yale graduate wrote a piece for a national magazine, rallying bird lovers to fly together.
George Bird Grinell.
“Yes, I’m serious,” Smith said.
The New Hampshire society began in Nashua in 1914, with its first board of directors and set of bylaws, and currently has about 3,200 members.
The society features day camps so kids can learn about nature, conservation and wildlife. Teachers are encouraged to visit so they can bring information back to their students.
Okay, now that you know the history, join me for yesterday’s 100th anniversary.
Members baked cakes with bird landscapes on top, made of chocolate and butter cream and other yummy ingredients. There were ducks on a pond, baby birds with their mouths open looking for food, pretzel sticks in a circle to form a nest, and tall pine trees and small humming birds.
A speaker hung above the cakes, broadcasting various bird sounds.
“That’s the barred owl,” Neale noted.
Then she hooted.
“Woo-woo-woo-woo. I call them to my window,” she said.
Elsewhere, kids made bird puppets using paper bags, construction paper, scissors and glue sticks. Catherine Fitzgerald of Concord brought her granddaughter, 7-year-old Kira Collins of Londonderry.
“I’ve seen tons of eagles,” said Kira, cutting paper for her bird. “I’ve seen them flying around. I saw their white head.”
Kira said a hawk once flew over her head, close. When asked how she reacted, she said, “Whoa!”
In the Discovery Room, Smith strummed her acoustic guitar while Fraser, the blue jay, encouraged kids in the hallway to come in, sit down and sing.
Nearly 30 years ago, Fraser, a medical science liaison, told her mother she no longer wanted to be watched by a baby sitter, so she packed a briefcase to look professional and applied for a job at New Hampshire Audubon.
She was 12 at the time, and she’s been a volunteer camp counselor ever since.
After a puppet show that included an owl explaining to children how the society has saved countless birds through the decades, Wall, the director of education, brought in the red-tailed hawk, one of several birds of prey living there.
“A broken right wing,” Wall said. “We think it might have been hit by a car. If they’re not strong enough to sustain flight, we give them a home, and I teach you. That’s my job.”
Wall said the hawk, now about 13 years old, was about 1 when a local veterinarian repaired its wing. He said the hawk eats mice, quail, maybe an occasional rat, that its average lifespan is 25 to 30 years, and that it can see a little mouse clearly from a quarter-mile away.
“Most birds we’ve found were near roadways,” Wall said, “because those make good places to hunt.”
The hawk with no name devoured chunks of a mouse, snatching them from a pair of forceps held by Wall.
“Its wing droops a little when it flies,” Wall told the kids and their parents.
At the end of the presentation, Wall put the hawk back in a wooden box for the quick trip to its nearby shelter.
Back home, with a bald eagle, a falcon and a pair of owls.