Why a horned owl, bald eagle are greeting visitors at Montgomery Bell park’s new attraction

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Ranger Tim Wheatley talks about the new raptor aviary at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson County.
Ranger Tim Wheatley talks about the new raptor aviary at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson County.

The Great Horned Owl stares with large, yellow eyes, it’s head turning nearly 180 degrees as park Ranger Tim Wheatley explains the bird’s characteristics.

“This species is very dominant. They are not the easiest bird to work with because they don’t like to be dominated,” said Wheatley while the unnamed owl studied its visitors.

Wheatley created the raptor program at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson County. During Wheatley’s 18 years at the park, the number of injured raptors – defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a carnivorous, large bird with large sharp talons – taken in for attempted rehabilitation has steadily increased. They would not have survive in the wild, he said.

Wheatley said he doesn’t name the raptors because he doesn’t want the audience, usually children, thinking the birds can be domesticated pets.

“We take birds that are injured and sometimes rehabilitate them. The rehabilitation process is to actually release them back into the wild,” Wheatley said. “But sometimes there are some birds, they are not physically able to go back. A byproduct of that is captive raptors that can’t go back into the wild, we use them for educational purposes.”

Last year, Wheatley talked to state park officials and the Friends of Montgomery Bell State Park nonprofit group about raising funds to create a permanent educational aviary, which is a space to secure birds.

Montgomery Bell State Park’s new aviary display, at the park’s main entrance office, is the result of those efforts. The new aviary grand opening is Saturday, May 21 at 11 a.m. In addition to the park’s owl and hawks, the free event will also include a bald eagle on loan for the day from another state park. Following the dedication ceremony, the park will have a Birds of Prey program in the aviary area, which includes a new stage and benches.

The owl is joined by red-tailed hawks in the aviary displays. Both raptors are common to Tennessee.

“We’ve always had them, but they were mobile (housing),” Wheatley said. “I had to take them from the maintenance shop to wherever I was going to do programming.”

The address for the grand opening is the park office at 1020 Jackson Hill Rd. in Burns.

“This will be a family event, and we hope to see visitors of all ages,” Wheatley said. “It’s a great way to inform the public and offer another reason to continue visiting the park. We’re grateful for all those who helped develop this facility.”

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Raptors on display as part of the new aviary at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson County.
Raptors on display as part of the new aviary at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson County.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Montgomery Bell park’s new aviary features owl, bald eagle attraction