When most of us think about birds of prey, we probably think of them as the tough guys of the avian world.
You know, the fierce hawk that swoops out of the tall tree, snares a fleeing mouse and then flaps away with its prize. Or maybe an owl, flying silently in the dark and zeroing in on its target like a stealth fighter.
If they were people, they'd be the heavily muscled guy with the shaved head and the tats lingering in the shadows of a dark alley -- fascinating to look at but just a little dangerous.
And then you meet a peregrine falcon like Stella and you hear her quack like a duck and you think: What the what?
Stella was one of roughly 10 creatures featured Saturday in the "Birds of Prey" show presented at the Roselle Public Library by Candy Ridlbauer and the folks at the Loves Park-based Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education center.
Ridlbauer, who cares for 27 raptors who have taken up permanent residence at her facility, says Stella is a frequent favorite at programs for fans of all ages because she's "a high-strung, get-excited kind of bird" who loves to flap her wings and, yes, give out with an occasional quack. No one knows exactly why she quacks, and Stella isn't telling, but it usually brings down the house.
Ridlbauer has been working with raptors for a long time and opened her own facility in 2004. Since then, her now nonprofit group has worked hard to do community outreach programs that take both humans and birds from the center to schools, libraries, senior centers and even Native American powwows.
She says she and her cohorts did 179 programs last year and hope to top the 200 mark this year.
She says they use programs like the one at the Roselle library to tell as many people as possible why raptors are needed in the environment. "They're still misunderstood," she says.
"You can't put out chemicals and toxins and not have repercussions," Ridlbauer says. "We should just let the raptors take care of the things like insects and rodents that bug us the most."
To help get that message across, it helps for people to see some of the creatures up close. Birds like Ulysses, a great-horned owl who is turning 4 this month.
"He hoots a lot during programs," Ridlbauer says. "We were in St. Charles last week and he talked in every program we did. He seems to like the attention."
She says she loves to display the birds in public and the birds seem to love it, too.
"I'm honored and privileged to be working with these birds on a regular basis," she says. "I think they actually train me more than I train them."