“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher,” wrote English poet William Wordsworth. The creatures of Earth have a lot to teach us, if we lean in and listen.
Beth Thomson is the founder of Blue Ridge Raptors, a North Georgia nonprofit. She allows nature to be our teacher by educating groups at state parks, libraries, museums and nature centers across North Georgia. Her specialty is raptors, birds of prey: owls, hawks and falcons. If you attend her programs, you will learn much about these fascinating creatures, including two of the most important ways everyone can help preserve these incredible birds.
Never throw litter on our highways and roads, not even biodegradable litter like apple cores. Trash attracts rats (raptors’ main food source). Even though they have outstanding eyesight, when the bird swoops down for their dinner close to the edge of the road, they often get hit by passing vehicles.
Don’t poison rats in your barn or outbuildings. Rodenticides kill more than just rodents. Owls eat about 1,000 rodents per year. Let the birds of prey do their job.
Beth started working with raptors in 2011. Her husband, John, also helps with the care of the animals and education. After two years of training, she obtained her wildlife educator permit. This allows her to house injured birds in her mew (a barn for birds); these birds can’t be released, because of permanent injuries and the loss of the ability to hunt.
Blue Ridge Raptors received nonprofit status last year, a move that ensures the birds’ care and protection will continue. Live birds, all native to Georgia, are part of her programs. Each raptor has a story to tell. At presentations, you get the privilege of meeting Zeus, the great horned owl. They are one of the strongest birds, nicknamed flying tigers.
Zeus has quite a few friends: Luna, a barn owl; Owl Capone, a barred owl; Journey, a broad-winged hawk; Goliath, an Eastern Screech owl; Scirocco, a red-tailed hawk, and Wilbur, an American kestrel falcon. Most were injured after being hit by cars, except for Scirocco, who was attacked by a murder (flock) of crows as a young bird and blinded.
Luna did not come to Beth injured. She is part of a special breeding program that was begun after the decline of her breed due to poisoning.
About Owl Capone, Beth said, “When you meet Capone, you may notice his right eye has a special sparkle. This is actually scarring from his original eye injury. Capone is blind in that eye and requires special care for it. He is a gentle soul. I am grateful for him every day.”
Yvonne Bombadier of Wild Birds Unlimited offers Blue Ridge Raptor programs at her store. “Our mission is to bring people and nature together, Bombadier said. “When Beth comes to educate our customers, they are in such awe of these magnificent birds and always excited to meet them.”
Kathy Brigman, a volunteer with the Georgia State Parks system said, “Beth and John Thomson are terrific educators. They are very knowledgeable, and provide excellent care and training for all of the raptors.”
With John’s help, Beth has led 219 educational programs since 2013, consisting of 819 program hours and more than 18,000 attendees. Because of the COVID-19 shutdown, her programs have been postponed or canceled. Hopefully, as the restrictions lift, programs will resume.
One hundred percent of all donations and program fees go to providing the funds necessary for food, care and veterinary bills. To get updates on rescheduled presentations, or to request a program, call Beth at 919-624-6373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about each bird’s story, or to make a donation, visit www.blueridgeraptors.org.
– Susan Schulz is a wife, mom, writer and mentor who lives and plays along the Etowah River in Canton.