Q&A with Bill Flynn, director of animal care at New Canaan Nature Center
NEW CANAAN — As the director of animal care and an environmental educator at the New Canaan Nature Center, Bill Flynn works with 40 species of animals on any given day that, for a variety of reasons, could not survive in the wild.
It is the job of Flynn, with the help of his animal care assistant, Jacque Bazelow, to ensure each of the animals — including ferrets, turtles, snakes, tarantulas and chinchillas, to name a few — is given the highest quality of life.
One of the Nature Center’s major draws is its birds of prey collection — eight birds renowned for their hunting and beloved by the visitors to the center and the groups in Connecticut and New York to which Flynn travels.
Q: How did you come to the Nature Center?
To see a video of Bill Flynn with Socrates, the one-winged owl, visit NewCanaanNewsOnline.com.
A: I grew up in Iowa, and I came here six years ago. My wife worked here before I met her. They wanted her to come back, and they asked what I did. She told them I was a wildlife biology major who works with animals and kids. So they said, “Oh, well, he’s getting an interview.”
Q: Are the birds you keep all native to this area?
A: Yes, you can find every single one of these out here. Some of them are much more common than others. Red-tailed hawks sit on top of tall spruces and can be seen circling often. Turkey vultures also do really well here. There’s plenty to eat and there’s plenty of woods for them to live.
Bald eagles you’ll see more around the Connecticut River and the Housatonic River. I have seen one circling here, but it’s rare. You can hear that really classic, “Hoo,” from great horned owls. They’re the only owl that makes that noise. Red-shouldered hawks do live around here, but they have to be careful because the larger red-tailed hawks can actually drive them out.
The most common place you find peregrine falcons is New York City. In the wild, they like to nest in high places, like cliffs, and they hunt birds. In Manhattan, you’ve got very high buildings, and then you’ve got pigeons that the falcons swoop down and catch.
Q: What exactly is a bird of prey?
A: The distinguishing factor about a bird of prey is that they’re hunting with their feet. They’re not catching things with their mouth. The one exception is our raven; they are not birds of prey.
Q: How did the birds come to be here?
A: Every one of these animals came from a wildlife rehabilitation center. They go to rehab for different reasons, mostly because someone finds an injured animal. The two most common injuries come when they fly into windows because they can’t see them, or, a lot of the time, they’re trying to get roadkill and get hit by cars. Once somebody finds the animal, they’re brought to rehabilitation organizations that are trying to fix hurt animals with the goal of releasing them.
Bud, the raven, was taken in as a pet when he shouldn’t have been. He got too used to being with people, so the people at his rehabilitation center didn’t feel comfortable putting him back out in the wild.
Glory, the bald eagle, was born with fused joints in her wings. She can’t spread her wings out, so she wouldn’t have been able to fly.
Q: What role do the birds play here at the center?
A: We are trying to provide environmental education experiences. Since the birds can’t live out in the wild anymore, we want them to still be able to wow and educate people visiting.
We feel like we’re kind of breeding the next generation of environmentalists. Kids seeing a really cool animal up close will have that memory and that fondness and they’ll want to protect what they love.
Q: Ultimately, what are you trying to accomplish at the center?
A: This is a final home for these animals. If they were left outside, they wouldn’t be alive today. They can’t stay in rehab forever. They actually have a time limit, and if they can’t find a permanent home, they have to put them down. So these animals would not be alive today if they didn’t find a permanent home.
And that’s something I want to impress upon people, because you see birds like these and you want to think of them free. And so do I, that’s where I would love to see these animals.
But this is the only way they can live a long, full life. And our goal and mission, and what our animal ambassadors, as we call them, are helping us with, is spreading environmental education and awareness.