Published Saturday, January 26, 2013
By MARIANNE THOMASSON
Remember the television show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”? Marlin Perkins would peek through the bamboo while he sent his assistant, Jim Fowler, to wrestle an alligator, grab a snake or anything else life-threatening.
An 8-year-old Dale Arrowood watched the series and it changed his life. As an adult he is now the owner of a licensed aviary with about 15 raptors in captivity in Coweta County. He and Fowler, who lives in Albany, are also buddies.
Young Arrowood found a baby great horned owl on the ground where it had been pushed out of the nest because there were too many eggs. “Birds of prey know the carrying capacity of a hunting area and how many plants and animals can be supported,” Arrowood said. They naturally thin out the brood to keep an area from being over-populated.
After caring for the owl for four years, “one day it just left,” Arrowood said.
With a licensed aviary, the idea is to let people learn how the birds work in the wild, according to Arrowood. His organization is the Winged Ambassadors ( wingedambassadors.com ).
One of the raptors (birds that kill with their feet) in the aviary is “Winston,” the baby screech owl that “is a rehab out of Covington where he was hit by a car and got a detached retina,” Arrowood said. “If we hadn’t rescued him, he would have been put down and stuffed.”
The red-tailed hawk is the source of the name for the Red Tail Squadron of the famed Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II. They studied the ways the birds flew double-winged and imitated them in combat. This strategy led to the stellar performance of the squadron.
The aviary’s red tail is named “Helaman” after the holy man who walked in South America 4,000 years ago. The Nephite prophet is perhaps best known in Latter Day Saints’ theology for leading into battle an army of two thousand young warriors which he referred to as his two thousand sons. The bird has a gripping power of 250 pounds in its talons and can easily crush the heads of prey.
“Czar” is the aviary’s Eurasian Eagle Owl and is the largest owl on the planet. He weighs about six pounds, but his ideal hunting weight is 5.5 pounds. He flaps his wings on command and is somewhat famous for appearing in AMC television hit zombie show “The Walking Dead” where he landed on a chair. “In the show, he was shot with a crossbow and eaten,” Arrowood said.
Hungarians use owls like Czar to hunt wolves, he continued. Their ear orifices are on the front of head so “they listen with their faces. He can hear our hearts beating right now. They can hear rodents under the snow and have four to eight times the ability to see than humans. It goes up to 100 times our sight at night. They can even adjust the size of their pupils on command.”
The Barbary Perigrin falcon comes from the Barbary Coast of Africa and is built for speed. “It can fly 250-260 miles per hour by sweeping its wings back. We got the idea (from them) for putting dull black smudges under our eyes (like football players) so light won’t reflect into the eye,” said Arrowood.
Harris hawks “hunt in paces of three to 15 birds and stalk their prey,” Arrowood said. “Young birds flush the prey and the older birds capture and make the kill. Their favorite food is jackrabbits.” Harris hawks also care for each other’s young.
“The black vulture is the most intelligent bird on the planet. When the winged ambassadors were doing a presentation at Callaway Gardens, some of the rocks had been rearranged in the amphitheater. The vulture circumvented the moved rocks. They can even find food in a shell game,” Arrowood said.
“Once a black vulture eats something with a disease (like salmonella), it is processed and disappears. They also defecate on their legs to create a barrier of micro-organizms. Unlike turkey buzzards, the black vulture has no sense of smell.”
A retired police officer, Arrowood is also a firearms instructor in Fulton County and at a local firing range.