Fall Festival for Everyone and the Birds

Fall Festival for Everyone and the Birds

Burke Church Brings Back the Raptors

Olive, a captive bred, 3-year-old Barn Owl, poses in front at a photo booth showing the farmland and barn environment ideal for her species

Olive, a captive bred, 3-year-old Barn Owl, poses in front at a photo booth showing the farmland and barn environment ideal for her species

Each year, on the last weekend of September, the large property of Nativity Catholic Church on Nativity Lane in Burke turns into an iconic community Fall festival like those enjoyed by Americans across the country since before the country’s birth. With fun, food, and activities for all ages, the festival includes on-site grilled BBQ wafting its aromas, a pie contest, cake walk, a large stage with live music, and plenty of tables and places to sit and enjoy the food, weather, and community. For the more active in the crowd, there are bounce houses, including one with a wrecking ball; obstacle course, ring toss, and rock climbing wall. And for those with an artistic appreciation, there is a photo area and face painting. 

Even with all the festival elements to enjoy, the stars of the show are the raptors of Secret Garden Birds and Bees. Requested to 

Liz Dennison, President, Secret Garden Birds and Bees, and Lil Red, a Red Shouldered Hawk, bring education about birds of prey to increase understanding about how to help them


return each year, State certified rehabilitator Liz Dennison and her volunteers bring her flock to share the beauty of the big, and little birds, who earn their mouse keep by helping to educate the public about raptors and to advocate for their protection. All but one of Secret Garden birds were born in the wild, found with injuries which precludes their ability to survive in their natural habitat. Then there is Pippin, the American Kestrel, with a slightly different story. Secret Gardens tells us, “Pippin was found wandering the streets of Washington DC; weak, hungry, and not flying away when approached. He was picked up by a kind person and brought to City Wildlife for care. They didn’t find anything wrong with him and transferred him to Owl Moon Raptor Center for flight conditioning and live prey testing, before release back to the wild. But his behavior was obviously not normal. Pippin showed no fear of people. He flew to the heads and shoulders of volunteers. He flew to us for food and ate calmly while perched on our hands. And he begged loudly whenever we entered the room. All of these are imprint behaviors.” So Pippin joined the flock of educator birds, and Dennison reports he has taken to the work quite well.

The one bird in the flock hatched in captivity by a licensed breeder is Olive, a Barn Owl. Dennison explains this species of owl is becoming increasingly rare in our area. Since their preferred habitat is open low-lying fields and farms where they can hunt for mice and nest in barns. it’s easy to see why our developed area is not inviting for them. Although Barn Owls also eat bats, frogs and lizards, a pair with young can need nearly 1,000 rodents to feed the family. That’s help appreciated in the areas these owls frequent, encouraged by farmers, to keep vermin under control as a crop protection. With few barns and farms in northern Virginia, we have less to offer these beautiful birds. It is certainly our loss in not having a chance to see the distinctive heart-shaped face, lined with overlaid feathers that seem like jewel-like lace, and the dark eyes like rubies within.

The birds are easy around the crowds anxious to get close to take a picture or just to see them. Now and then wings flap and tethers are stretched before the birds safely re-alight on the gloved hands of their handlers, surprising a few and delighting most lucky to see the wild birds at close hand. For all their hard work as educators and ambassadors of their species, the birds were assured a mouse or two dinner reward back at home. 

For more on these special birds and Secret Garden Birds and Bees’ work and programs, see
http://www.secretgardenbirdsandbees.com/home.html. For more on Nativity Catholic Church, including their Creation Care Ministry, and monthly Echo food, and Ukraine winter coat drives see https://nativityburke.org/ 

Keira Kovack, 5, of Fairfax, and Ava Lewis, 6, of Springfield, wanted a picture with Lil Red, as Barred Owl, Scarlett, watched the activity in the background