As a longtime Eyes in the Sky volunteer, Coni Edick presents six native birds of prey, rehabilitated from injuries in the wild, to children and adults throughout the Santa Barbara area in classrooms, camps, after-school programs and community events.
Eyes in the Sky is a community education outreach program sponsored by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society.
The program’s birds are Max, a great horned owl; Ivan, a red-tailed hawk; Kisa, a peregrine falcon; Athena, a barn owl; Kanati, a male American kestrel; and Puku, a Western screech owl.
“Although I love them all, Ivan is my favorite. I call him Ivan the Great. He is majestic. He’s our elder statesman, but when he came in 1998, he was called Ivan the Terrible because he was so wild,” said Ms. Edick.
“He was found next to Highway 166 near New Cuyama. He was injured by a car while attempting to catch prey running across the highway. The impact caused a wing fracture and blindness in one eye.”
The other birds have equally dramatic back stories, she said.
“As a baby, Max fell out of the nest, was rescued and raised by humans, and because he never knew his owl parents, never learned how to be an owl. He has a behavioral disability called imprinted, which means he thinks he is human or that humans are owls. Unfortunately, imprinting is irreversible.”
Kisa was shot with a pellet gun and still has a pellet embedded in her shoulder, which means she is unable to fly.
While hunting by a roadside, Athena was hit by a car, causing her to lose her sight in one eye. “She now has depth perception problems that cause her to miss her perches, meaning that she would also miss much of her prey,” said Ms. Edick.
“Kanati’s right wing was badly damaged, causing a permanent imbalance, when she was hit by a car, and Puku is the only bird that is with us due to natural causes,” Ms. Edick said. “She caught an eye infection in the wild, and by the time she was found, her eyesight could not be restored.”
“Puku is the Chumash name for the Western screech owl, which translates into ‘little gray owl.’ Funnily enough, Western screech owls do not screech. Insead they make a soft burbling noise.”
Despite their traumatic backgrounds, the birds seem perfectly calm and comfortable as they perch on the hands of volunteers like Ms. Edick when interacting with the community.
“It took a while to train them, and that comes from handling them a lot. Every day they are taken from the aviary at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. We have them hanging out on our gloves,” said Ms. Edick, a Santa Barbara native who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Sonoma, before pursuing a career in human resources spanning 35 years before retiring from UCSB in 2013.
“My love affair with birds began while I was volunteering at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. One day, I was feeding some baby birds with an eyedropper, and other curious chicks began hopping on my arms. I felt their little feet and fell in love. It was an aha moment,” she said.
The bird-in-the-hand experience led to bird identification, then to birding in the field, then to Eyes in the Sky, where she has volunteered since 2002.
“I’ve been at Eyes in the Sky longer than many jobs I’ve had,” said Ms. Edick with a laugh. She now has the title of shift lead, a head volunteer with a wealth of experience and skill.
For her formal presentation before groups, she explained that she wears a leather glove and the bird sits on her fist, not her wrist, to provide a firm platform.
“It’s always the left fist, to leave my right hand free to do whatever needs to be done. I keep control of the bird on a leash which is attached from the glove to jesses or collars on the bird’s legs,” said Ms. Edick, adding that the birds of prey or raptors include hawks, falcons, eagles and owls.
“They are birds that have hooked beaks and use their feet to hunt.”
Eyes in the Sky, which was founded in 2000 by Gabriele Drozdowski, who retired in 2018 as the program’s director, is the only licensed raptor education program in Santa Barbara County.
“The birds’ unique stories of survival share a message about the impact that we as humans have on the lives of our ‘wild neighbors.’ Our goal is to foster respect and understanding for these wild species and their habitats,” said Ms. Edick.
Eyes in the Sky birds are usually presented from 2 to 4 p.m. most days of the week at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol Road. However, the museum is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once restrictions are lifted, they will be on display to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the museum’s main campus under the oak tree and from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the museum’s backyard. On Tuesdays, the birds take a rest from the crowds.
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