A real sense of "Wonder" flew into town on Saturday when Horizon Wings, a nonprofit birds of prey rehabilitation and education program, provided a demonstration of real-life kindness through its ambassador animals.
In conjunction with Fairfield Public Library's "One Book, One Town" community reading initiative, which has as its theme book "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio, the Pequot Library hosted a visit from five injured creatures rescued from the wild, including a black vulture, crow, great-horned owl, red-tailed hawk and a box turtle named Beamer with an artificial leg.
"Our main goal is to get these birds healthy and back into the wild, whether they're hurt or injured or orphaned," said Alan Nordell, of Ashford, who co-founded Horizon Wings with his wife, Mary-Beth Kaeser. "Some of the birds that come in to us can't be released into the wild," and so become educational ambassadors while remaining in the care of Horizon Wings, he said..
A crowd of 50 not only learned about the animals' histories, but were taught about their vital roles in the ecosystem.
The program also underscored the kindness theme that infuses Palacio's novel.
"Crows are very misunderstood animals," said volunteer Jeanne Wadsworth, who introduced an enormous crow named Corbin, which perched on her gloved hand and called loudly. "They're not pests. They're very good for our environment."
Another bird brought to the program was Dakota, a red-tailed hawk hit by a car on Interstate 84.
Nordell said that while the many creatures from the wild can adapt well to urban settings, "unfortunately there are a lot of dangers in the cities. "Crows will attack red-tailed hawks," he said. "There's a hate-hate relationship between crows and raptors."
Wadsworth also told the audience about the kind of pollution that can harm raptors, including plastic jars and containers, which can trap animals and cause their death. She said as well as cutting up plastic six-pack bottle holders, things like yogurt containers with hard, narrow mouths should be cut or crushed so they cannot pose entrapment dangers for animals.
"I think this is really going to help people understand the environment," said Kayleigh Gallagher, 8, of Fairfield. "If we don't know it and learn it, then all the animals in the world will be wiped out."
"We came here because she's reading `Wonder' with her class, and she's an animal enthusiast," said her mother, Kathleen Gallagher.
Oscar, a great-horned owl, can spot a mouse 200 yards away with illumination as slight as that cast by a candle. "They are known as the tiger of the woods," Nordell said of the owl. "There is pretty much nothing that messes with a great horned owl.
"Their hearing is so acute," he said, "they can hear a mouse running under a foot of snow."
Along with crows, Wadsworth said, "vultures have gotten a bad reputation as well." Black vultures, however, like Stevie Ray, help the environment a great deal with their scavenging, he said. "Vultures actually play a very, very important role in nature," Wadsworth said. "They're our clean-up crew ... all the diseases that would be passed along if we didn't have these birds. They're important.
"Most people don't see the cute face that I see when I look at them," she said.
The last creature introduced to the gathering was Beamer, a box turtle who was fitted with an artificial hind leg in the form of a toy car wheel. "They're on the threatened list in Connecticut," Nordell said, adding that people need to do their part to protect their habitats.
"I had seen this organization at a workshop presentation in January," said Susan Ei, the children's librarian at the Pequot Library, "and I was very impressed with their mission."
Given the kindness theme in the book "Wonder," she said, "I thought they would be very interesting."