Meet Blue, the Harris’s Hawk, 1 of 200 animals housed at St. Louis’ World Bird Sanctuary | St. Louis Public Radio

Meet Blue, the Harris’s Hawk, 1 of 200 animals housed at St. Louis’ World Bird Sanctuary

Aug 4, 2016

Katrina Whitener is the nature center supervisor at the World Bird Sanctuary.
Credit Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

From the moment Katrina (“Trina”) Whitener met “Lonesome George” – the last tortoise of his kind - in kindergarten, she knew she wanted to dedicate her life to making sure no animal had to experience what George experienced ever again.

That’s why she decided to start working at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri in 2003. Thirteen years later, she is excited to welcome the sanctuary’s new executive director, Brian Bissonnette, to the team.

Bissonnette, a 25-year Army veteran, has always been interested in wildlife conservation, and as he prepared to retire from the military this year, he decided to pursue a second career at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Started by Walter Crawford in his own backyard 40 years ago, the sanctuary has grown over the years to encompass 305 acres of land and over 200 animals.

A special guest - Blue the Harris's Hawk - joined Whitener and Bissonnette in studio.
Credit Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh was joined in studio by Bissonnette, Whitener, and a special guest: Blue, the Harris’s Hawk.

Blue, who was hatched and raised at the sanctuary, is almost one-year-old.

None of the birds have been taken directly from the wild. They are either educational birds like Blue who have been bred at the sanctuary or rescue birds who could not survive on their own if re-introduced to the wild.

The World Bird Sanctuary, which is free to visit, has a variety of events and educational programs for guests. Some of these programs, like Amazing Animal Encounters held every weekend until Labor Day, involve bringing birds like Blue out to fly over audience members’ heads while naturalists tell stories about them.

Credit Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

“When you can take Blue to a show and have her fly just inches above people’s heads, it really makes an impact,” explained Whitener. “It forms more of an emotional connection and people are more likely to respond to that and help her wild counterparts.”

The World Bird Sanctuary’s rehabilitation hospital takes injured birds, provides them with treatment, and, if possible, re-introduces them to their natural habitat.

What’s the number one cause of injury to the animals they receive? Collisions with manmade objects. Barbed wire, electrical fences, and picture windows are just a few of the things that present a danger to unsuspecting birds.

With these threats in mind, Whitener provided some advice for homeowners looking to make their residences more bird-friendly:

  1. If you put up a bird feeder, make sure to clean it regularly to prevent any spreading of disease.
  2. Keep feeders and bird baths away from picture windows.
  3. If you have a cat, make sure it can’t access the area around the feeder.
  4. Avoid using pesticides that can cause infected rodents to infect predators, including birds.

The best part about taking care of the animals in your backyard?

“It’s kind of like having them as pets but nature does all the dirty work and you get the enjoyment,” said Whitener.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.