Birds of the same feather flock together, and falconer, Christine Peyreigne, helps save injured birds of prey. She proves that following your passion offers a tremendous personal reward.
Peyreigne owns and operates Christine’s Critters Inc., a Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education non-profit in Weston, Connecticut. Their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release as many injured birds of prey as they can handle.
Christine’s Critters relies on donations, program fees, and their own money to care for its 21 permanent resident birds of prey, 30 reptiles, and the more than 200 birds that receive care, rehabilitation, and release each year.
Engine That Makes Christine’s Critters Go
But what drives Christine’s Critters is Christine.
She’s the engine that makes Christine’s Critters go.
With her mother’s love and unwavering support, Betsy Peyreigne and a handful of dedicated volunteers.
Christine’s Critters is Born
The non-profit was born from Christine’s passion for birds of prey and her desire to offset humanity’s harmful effects on native wildlife.
Just 21 years old, Christine knew at age 14 she wanted to dedicate her life to working with animals.
She began volunteering her time with various wildlife organizations to learn more about caring for birds of prey.
Betsy points out that she didn’t know how many hours Christine spent volunteering until they were filling out her college applications.
Christine logged more than 4000 hours at various wildlife organizations in just four years.
“Christine knew she’d do something with animals, but when we said to find your passion, we didn’t know it would be this,” says Betsy.
Licensed Falconer and Wildlife Rehabilitator
Christine became a licensed general class falconer when she was 16 and began hunting with her falconry bird, a Red-tailed Hawk named Theron.
And then, at age 18, became a trained wildlife rehabilitator.
She’s currently an undergraduate student at Mercy College and plans to become a veterinary technician.
But Christine’s goal is to own and operate an Animal Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in southern Connecticut.
Betsy says that she knew Christine couldn’t do wildlife rehabilitation while going to college, so she jumped in and said she’d help her daughter with this endeavor.
And Christine’s Mother has played a vital role.
Making of Christine’s Critters
When you drive up to Christine’s Critter’s, located on their family property in Weston, you can’t help but notice a tennis court converted into an aviary.
And closer to the house is a cluster of three more aviaries and then another large aviary home to a bald eagle.
Christine comes up with the design ideas for the aviaries that improve with each build, and then a local carpenter executes her vision.
Some parents might not be thrilled about having aviaries engulf their property or having Red-tailed Hawks living in their home. S till, Betsy is exceptionally supportive of Christine’s dream and just goes with it.
“Christine is my youngest. What was I going to do anyway? It gave me something to do.”
And it also provides her with new friends of the avian and reptile variety to care for each day. Thirty reptiles, to be exact.
“We have doors with bolts, and people wonder what we do in here. They’re to keep the dogs (four huskies) away from the birds and the reptiles,” says Betsy. “If someone told me ten years ago you’d be holding hawks or have snakes living in your house, I’d never believed it.”
Betsy credits her daughter for her enthusiastic view.
“Christine’s passion is infectious.”
Wildlife Rehabilitation for Injured Birds of Prey
Birds of prey are some of the most beautiful birds in the wild. But they are also the most dangerous.
When a wildlife rehabilitator provides aid to injured, orphaned, displaced, or distressed wild animals so that they may survive when released to their native habitats, it can be pretty dangerous.
It requires a person to have the appropriate training, endless patience, and be comfortable handling the animals, so it doesn’t become deadly.
The level of care that Christine provides birds ranges from direct care and rehab to arranging for suitable release sites.
Back Into the Wild
Christine says whenever possible, they try to rehabilitate the birds to send them back to the wild for a second chance at life. “If they’re non-releasable due to their injuries, we do everything to find homes for them as educational ambassadors at nature centers,” she adds.
Wildlife rehabilitation is part science, part education, part problem-solving, and part caregiving.
“Many of our birds have injuries to their wings or other thermoregulation processes, so we can’t just let them be exposed as they would in the wild,” she says.
Finding Red-tailed Hawks a Home
Space is a severe concern for wildlife rehabilitators.
Christine has several large flight cages that reside on what used to be a tennis court.
But currently, two non-releasable Red-tailed Hawks she’s babysitting for another wildlife rehabilitator are in one of the larger cages.
She says finding a home for Red-tailed Hawks that are non-releasable is a severe problem.
“Finding homes for Red-tailed Hawks can be quite challenging. On the Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and, Conservation (FWRC) database, there are 18 Red-tailed Hawks looking for a home.”
She says that zoos want 2-3 Red-tailed Hawks for programs, and they don’t need more.
Christine has successfully placed her birds with the Rhode Island Audubon and other local wildlife organizations.
But she says that some birds that don’t do well in captivity leave rehabilitators with no other choice but to euthanize them.
The two Red-tailed Hawks she’s babysitting are safe with her and have a home until one is found.
It’s pretty likely the Red-tailed Hawks Christine is currently nursing back to health and will be released once they’re well.
“This hawk was hit by a car as an adult. Otherwise, we’d be more worried if it was a juvenile. She’s already got hunting down, so she’s not one of those 70 percent that doesn’t know how to hunt.”
Injured Birds of Prey Go Home
Christine says the challenge is teaching the bird how to hunt again with this impairment.
“We’ve successfully released Red-tailed hawks with mild eye injuries with partial eyesight back into the wild, and they’re doing well.”
She says they monitor them by seeing them.
Christine’s Critters works with bird banders, but they can’t call a bird bander every time they have an injured Red-tailed Hawk because there are too many.
“We just let them go and give them a second chance at life. For the most part, it works out, and now we have a resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks on our property.”
Caring for Injured Birds of Prey
Christine trained to be a wildlife rehabilitator through her college programs. She can assess injuries and administer subcutaneous shots, pain medication, and antibiotics. If a vet is not open, she transports the bird to the following day to the vet for care.
She sees firsthand how her ability to administer care saves a bird’s life.
Christine’s education Red-tailed Hawk, Amelia came to her for care covered in maggots.
“If I hadn’t been able to administer Ivermectin (anti-parasite used to treat infections), Amelia would not have made it to the vet the next day. It saved her life.”
Rodenticide a Growing Concern
Christine can also administer Vitamin-K for rodenticide poisoning to start treatment immediately for a greater chance of recovery.
Rodenticide poisoning is a growing concern among raptors.
In California’s San Diego County, rodenticides in 92 percent of raptors. In New York, rodenticides were found in 49 percent of 12 species of necropsied raptors. For Great Horned Owls, the figure was 81 percent.
A study by Tufts University found that 88 percent of raptors have rodenticide poisoning.
It inhibits their coagulation factor. As a result, birds cannot clot their blood and then bleed out.
Christine says administering Vitamin-K helps, but not always. “There is no such thing as a hawk transfusion, and by the time the birds come in, it’s often already too late.”
Key to Happy Birds
Christine says they take great pride at Christine’s Critters in keeping their birds clean. The birds are sprayed down once a day.
“All our birds here are quite happy. We provide fresh water every day and a good varied diet of not just mice, but quail chicks, pheasants, and rabbits, so they stay healthier.”
Christine’s Critters is a not-for-profit and doesn’t receive federal or state funding to care for the birds.
She pays for all licenses, veterinary bills, medicine, enclosures, perch coverings, maintenance, anklets, pens, transportation boxes, and food expenses out of pocket.
And the cost of driving a long distance to retrieve and place the animals.
Paying the Price to Rehab
“We have to provide all the food ourselves. A Red-tailed Hawk eats four mice a day, so it gets expensive feeding just one Red-tailed Hawk,” she says.
“Currently, we have 15 resident birds of prey and care for more than a hundred others throughout the year.”
She’s can continue doing her rehab work at Christine’s Critters through public donations and education programs.
“It’s very costly to pay for veterinary care for my educational birds. For example, Poseidon, our Osprey suffering from West Nile Virus, had an $1100 vet bill, and he didn’t make it.”
Betsy says when spectators see a beautiful hawk stand on her daughter’s glove, they think being a wildlife rehabilitator is glamorous.
“But it’s not, and 99 percent of it is dirty work,” she adds.“It’s very costly to pay for veterinary care for my educational birds. Poseidon, our Osprey suffering from West Nile Virus had an $1100 vet bill, and he didn’t make it.”
Betsy says when spectators see a beautiful hawk stand on her daughter’s glove they think being a wildlife rehabilitator is glamorous.
“But it’s not, and 99 percent of it is dirty work,” she adds.
Second Chance at Life
After meeting most of Christine’s permanent critters and those rehabilitating and waiting for release back into the wild, you can’t help but notice that all of these birds have one thing in common: they’ve all been harmed by humanity.
And most were injured by cars.
Christine says that over 80 percent of the birds she takes in have been hit by cars.
The two birds she sees most are Barred Owls and Red-tailed Hawks.
Luckily for these birds and people who love birds as much as we do, there are places like Christine’s Critters to help give these injured birds a second chance at life in the wild.
Natural Gift for Helping Injured Birds of Prey
Christine has a gift, or some would call it, a magical touch to relate to birds.
Birds that are unruly or quiet in the captivity of others are suddenly acting calm, becoming vocal, and thriving under Christine’s care.
She has a natural ability to nurture wildlife, and nature responds.
Maybe the birds think Christine’s a bird.
Or the birds believe they’re human when they’re around her.
But whatever it is, it’s a fantastic skill and her passion and mission in life.
We look forward to the day when this young woman can fulfill her dream and open a wildlife rehabilitation center in southern Connecticut.
Life in the wild doesn’t have to be so hard for birds.
Birds have everything they need to exist. Humanity complicates it.
We are fortunate to have people like Christine that protect birds. And then we save the earth.
Christine’s Critters, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) created in 2015 whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured birds of prey.
It relies on donations and program fees to care for 21 permanent resident birds of prey, 30 reptiles, 2 amphibians, 1 tarantula and the 200 or more birds that are admitted into rehabilitation each year.
To get involved, donate, send needed supplies from Christine’s Critters’ Amazon Wishlist or just volunteer go to https://www.christinescritters.org/get_involved.