Christine Cummings and Todd Secki have put into action what Cummings calls “a shared passion for birds” by transforming their Killingworth property into a rehabilitation and education center for birds of prey.
As the husband-and-wife team take me on a tour of the aviaries (built by Secki), it’s clear they have developed strong mutual bonds with these hawks, bald eagles, pigeons, ospreys, owls and other birds. This enterprise, A Place Called Hope, has an average population of 80 birds, many of them in rehab, being prepared for release back into the wild. That’s the main goal here: to heal injured, orphaned or ill birds and return them to where they belong.
Cummings calls it “an honor” to do this hard, around-the-clock work. “These birds are sacred to Todd and me,” she says. “To be able to be with them and help them to rehab and restore them to freedom — there’s no better feeling.”
But some of the birds who are brought here from animal hospitals, veterinarians and volunteer rescuers are so severely injured that they can’t ever return to the wild. Cummings and Secki will carefully tend to them for the rest of the birds’ lives.
When Secki steps into the aviary for one of the permanent residents, a raven named Loki, the bird responds immediately to him. She has been with Cummings and Secki since 2007, the year the center achieved nonprofit status.
Unfortunately for Loki, at an early age she was taken in by a human. “Birds are best raised by birds,” Cummings notes. “It’s illegal to have wild birds as pets; a lot of people don’t know that. Imprinting is irreversible. When that happens, a bird’s survivability in the wild decreases by 98 percent. If Loki got out she would probably be killed by her own kind.”
“She thinks of us as her family,” Cummings says as Loki gently pecks at Secki’s fingers. “She’s in love with Todd.”
Loki came to the center after she flew out the window of her human’s home, then approached a group of people in a park in an effort to get some of their food. “Somebody tried to shoo her away and her leg was broken,” Cummings says.
During my visit, Scott Quine of New Britain arrives with an injured pigeon he was transporting from an animal hospital. Quine is one of the volunteers Cummings and Secki rely on to rescue and transport birds in need. “There are a lot of generous hearts out there and Scott is one of them,” Cummings says after he departs. “We need to clone him.”
For those who want to do this demanding work, the center offers a rescue/transport seminar to show people how to properly and safely rescue injured, orphaned or sick birds and secure them for safe transport. (See their website: aplacecalledhoperaptors.com).
Sometimes Secki is called upon to do the rescue work. Two years ago, despite his fear of heights, he climbed 60 feet up a tree at Chatfield Hollow State Park after a park ranger reported a baby great-horned owl had fallen to the ground. When Secki arrived, he discovered the baby’s sibling in the tree. Secki had to build a new nest and relocate the fallen bird’s sibling. This did not sit well with the mother; she flew at him and clawed at his body. He returned to Killingworth with red marks on his neck and arm.
“It was terrifying,” Secki says.
“It’s a risk we take whenever we go out in a rescue situation,” Cummings notes.
They discourage people from approaching birds who appear to be in distress. The human and the bird could be injured if they come into contact. Anybody in that situation should take photos of the bird, then call Cummings at 203-804-3453. (Songbirds are not accepted because there simply isn’t enough room nor the time at a two-person center taking in about 600 birds of prey every year.)
The most common injuries birds suffer are being hit by a motor vehicle or flying into a window. But there are other dangers: ingesting rat poison or lawn chemicals, getting entangled in garbage or hit when trees are cut down.
Cummings shows me two peregrine falcons, Ash and Zion. “Ash was shot in her left wing in the first year of her life. Zion had a damaged face and wings; she was in really poor condition.”
In a nearby aviary are two black vultures and a turkey vulture named Ishkade, who was rescued alongside I-95 after being hit by a motor vehicle. The black vultures are Jet, who is missing part of his wing, and Opal, blind in one eye. All three are permanent residents because their injuries were so severe.
Then Cummings introduces me to the bald eagles, Tiasu and Enapai. Tiasu was rescued from the Housatonic River in Shelton after ingesting a toxic substance; Enapai crashed into the Mississippi River. As Cummings approaches Enapai, he bows his head. “That’s his way of acknowledging my presence, letting us know he means no harm or threat. He loves to bow. I’m hoping he’ll do that in our programs.”
Cummings is referring to the educational programming put on by the center. “We charge for those because we’re not funded by the state or federal government. We also rely on grants and donations. And we rely on our supporters for supplies, time and money.”
Other public events include a nature festival, to be held this year on July 13. The center also offers tours, by appointment only. “We’re always on call,” Cummings says. “We can’t do much traveling.”
They are licensed to do the rehabilitation work but they can’t do surgeries. “We work with veterinarians who donate their skills and time,” she says. “We have a critical care ward in our home but we’re building a separate structure for that. Too many years of having birds in the house!”