Predators spread their wings in Vannie stadium

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New York City’s Urban Park Rangers descended upon Van Cortlandt Stadium on a muggy, humid afternoon to not just educate, but  showcase predatory birds like the bald eagle and the great horned owl.

It was all part of Raptor Fest, the first time urban park rangers — a special division of the city’s parks enforcement division — have hosted this event in the Bronx. The rangers’ primary function is to connect New Yorkers to nature, conducting educational outings from the city’s seven nature centers, and care for displaced and injured wildlife.

The stadium inside Van Cortlandt Park was transformed into educational booths Sept. 16, informing those who happened across the exhibition about the role the predatory birds play in our natural ecosystem. 

“We are here to learn about the dynamics of flight and the American bald eagle, hawks and falcons,” said parks commissioner Mitchell Silver, who said the city is home to more than 30,000 acres of open space — more than a third of that is forest or wetland. 

“Next time you’re at a park, remember to look up,” Silver said, warning that if predatory birds are spotted, “do not feed them, they can fend for themselves.”

The event kicked off with the release of a red-tailed hawk back into the wild. It was found injured on Mosholu Parkway back in May, nursed back to health by Bobby Horvath of Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, an animal assistance group based out of North Massapequa.

Not just birds

But it wasn’t just birds and government officials at Vannie that Saturday afternoon. The Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy also was present — the agency that fosters stewardship and education to ensure the 1,416 acres of the park remain vibrant and healthy. Emerson Nunez, the conservancy’s coordinator, spoke to passersby about the importance of the Urban Park Rangers, especially when it comes to the park itself. 

The animals there, Nunez said, are neighbors too, and it’s good to have an organization like the park rangers in times of need, or when people are skittish about interacting with wildlife.

“These birds are special, we have a duty to care of them,” Ranger John McCoy said. “All of us park rangers have a soft spot in our hearts for them when things go wrong. If birds of prey start to dwindle, pests multiply, and that’s when we run into problems.”

As the crowd began to encircle the barriers meant to protect the raptors and any adventurous youngster from the sharp talons of the birds of prey, many interacted with the birds on a more personal level, snagging selfies and pictures with the Urban Park Rangers. Many gave thanks for imparting the knowledge of the dynamics of flight, and for keeping wildlife in good health where the birds belong, out in the wilds of nature.

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