Get close up to a mighty big woodpecker, a teeny tiny hummingbird and other feathered fliers at Whidbey Audubon’s Bird in the Hand Festival this Saturday.
Touching is encouraged and the birds won’t move, peck, tweet or twitter.
But they will educate and inspire.
The Whidbey Audubon Society has an extensive library of some 550 bird specimens that continues to grow, said Robin Llewellyn, who oversees the collection.
“Over this past two years, specially-trained bird preppers have been hard at work getting ready for the festival,” she said. “There will be a large number of brand new never before seen specimens at the festival.”
They include Pileated Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon, Common Murre, Caspian Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet and a Horned Grebe.
Volunteers are trained by taxidermist Matt Klope, a retired federal wildlife biologist who handled the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island endangered-species management and hunting and research programs. He and his wife, Joan, operate Whidbey Island Taxidermy in Oak Harbor.
Although all the birds on display have met an untimely death, they provide a chance for children and adults to learn about Whidbey’s many different birds and various characteristics, coloring, feeding and nesting habits.
“These specially preserved birds are seen by over 1,500 members of the community each year,” Llewellyn said. “They are vital teaching tools organized by specimen and characteristics to be used for education, research and inspiration.”
The first up-close bird in the hand display occurred in 2010 using the specimens from Matt Klope’s collection. About 85 people attended. Presented every two years, the event has grown; in 2016, about 450 people attended.
The organization holds permits from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Scientific Collection Permit to collect and prepare the specimens.
Sharing the spotlight will be falconers with live raptors, including a great horned who may not move much but is very much alive.
An owl pellet table, a microscope to study the intricate structure of feathers and a live demonstration explaining how birds are preserved are some of the planned activities.
The event tends to bring out the curious kid in everyone.
“Trying on a heron’s wing, holding a hummingbird, watching a live owl, makes us all the same age,” Llewellyn said. “I love to watch families share this unique experience. When they leave, we are sure they will have a new sense of wonder and appreciation for our avian neighbors and want to love and protect them.”