Swoop into institute for raptor event

Whidbey residents have a chance to meet a falcon and learn about birds of prey this weekend.

Whidbey residents have a chance to meet a falcon named Joe and learn about birds of prey this weekend.

The Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship in Coupeville is hosting Prairie Days from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 5 and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 6. The two days are full of activities designed to educate the public on the prairie lands and native plants that the institute protects. This will include prairie, birding and native plant tours and an educational presentation on birds of prey.

From 1:30 – 3 p.m. on Saturday, master falconer Steve Layman and falconer Joel Gerlach will lead a class on the fascinating predatory birds. Pacific Rim Institute CEO Robert Pelant said that the organization hosted a raptor day every September for 10 years until COVID-19 brought it to a halt. The full event is scheduled to return this year on Sept. 9.

Clinton area resident Layman will bring Joe, a desert falcon, to the May 6 event. Layman said the point of his falcon presentation is to bring more attention to the institute itself. He is passionate about the nonprofit’s goals and explained that a bird like Joe is at the top of the food chain and can’t live unless there is a healthy environment “right down to the plants that grow.”

Pacific Rim grows over 50 species of rare and some endangered plant species, all native to the island.

Layman will talk about different species of falcons and other birds of prey. He has been interested in nature since he was a child and observed wild hawks when he was growing up in Yakima. He said he has been a falconer “uninterrupted” since he was 12 years old. Along with Joe, Layman also owns a goshawk.

To be a falconer, one must have federal and state permits and pass exams.

“We don’t consider them pets,” Layman said. “We hunt with them.”

He said training and hunting with birds of prey is a practice that started more than 2,000 years ago. Using food as a motivator, Layman trained Joe to come to him when he calls. Joe hunts rabbits and birds like pheasants and small ducks. Joe catches the animals and eats his fill and then leaves the rest for Layman.

Joe is very comfortable with his owner and he will sit calmly and quietly on his arm while Layman goes about his business, even while he makes a cup of tea.

“He looks at me as if I were his mate and companion,” he said.

Layman has traveled on an airplane with Joe, who fits in a dog crate. He said the bird doesn’t like being petted but he will tolerate it. Joe is 10 years old and has a lifespan of 30 years. In the wild, his lifespan would likely be significantly shorter.

Layman said he volunteers so much of his time to the Pacific Rim Institute because he loves how much education outreach the organization does.

“That’s why I’m here – to attract people’s attention to this place because without that understanding of nature, these things don’t exist,” Layman said, referring to Joe. “He’s a little ambassador.”

The Prairie Days event is free and family-friendly. For more information, visit pacificriminstitute.org.

Flyer provided