PITTSBORO — Owls and hawks alike soared high in the skies above Starrlight Mead on Saturday when Claws Inc. — an organization dedicated to assisting wild and exotic animals — held a bird-releasing event at the meadery at 130 Lorax Lane in Pittsboro.
Guests were able to have a first-hand look at some of North Carolina’s native birds, ranging from screech owls and red-tailed hawks to a small kestrel and a friendly corvid bird mix named Grip, who perched on the shoulders of guests.
A highlight was the release of four birds into the wild — two great horned owls and two red tail hawks.
“They’re super nice people — they rescue birds, rehabilitate them and try to release them back into the wild,” Starrlight Mead owner Becky Starr said of Claws. “Oftentimes when they come out, they bring a number of birds with them that are ready to be released, and they basically raffle off an opportunity to release the bird back into the wild, which I’ve done twice. It’s the coolest experience ever.”
Claws, based in Orange County, holds various educational and local rehabilitates events until the animals are healed enough to be released into the wild.
Kindra Mammone and her husband, Vinny, started Claws as a way to help educate people about the animals living in their own communities.
“We understand all these big sexy animals, but the public does not understand what’s in their own backyard,” Mammone said. “That’s what I want to teach. That’s what I want — people to understand what they might actually run into and not fear it.”
Mammone came from a family of rehabilitators, so she knew she wanted to help animals in some way. Her role in Claws allows her to share her love for helping animals in need, as well as educate people on the importance of their local ecosystems.
Starting off with a raccoon and a skunk, Claws began to take in other small mammals. Soon, Mammone was able to help rehabilitate birds who had been injured in the wild.
Now, she and her team book events at schools, breweries, festivals and more to help give people more insight into the creatures they see on a day-to-day basis.
“The animals that live with us permanently need a job,” she said. “And who better to teach about what people do and why we should appreciate these animals?”
Claws held its first event at Starrlight Mead in 2017, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most of the organization’s regular bookings came to a screeching halt. When restrictions were lifted in 2021, Starr said she started booking Claws for monthly educational and bird-releasing events.
“They’ve been coming out once a month for the last two years, and every time, I’m still in awe of these birds,” Starr said. “They’re beautiful creatures, and you don’t normally get to see owls and hawks and eagles up close… to be able to see them up close just really gives you an appreciation of their beauty and how amazing they are.”
Mammone and her volunteer-run organization continue to come to Chatham County, particularly to Starrlight Mead at The Plant, for a plethora of reasons. But one of the main reasons is because of the people who come to these events.
“They’ve always got an amazing crowd of people,” Mammone said. “This whole area down here… it’s beautiful. They’re really trying to make it very family-friendly, which of course, being us, we want the kids to come out.”
For Starr, she said these events not only bring more people out to Starrlight Mead, but allowing Claws at her business guests to learn something new about local wildlife and experience it in a way they might not have before.
“It’s super fun, and it’s really amazing to be able to see these birds up close,” Starr said. “It’s an opportunity that not many people get very often, and kids in particular think it’s really cool. I would hope that they would continue to support Claws because it’s a great organization.”
Mammone said she hopes she can continue the events at Starrlight Mead in the pursuit of educating people, particularly children, about wildlife. By doing so, Mammone hopes she can address misinformation and “old wives tales” surrounding animals such as buzzards or raccoons.
“I’m convinced that most people learn everything they know about wildlife from Bugs Bunny,” she said. “We get so many calls about buzzards — a buzzard is a red-tail hawk, not a vulture. So just being able to teach that kind of thing is very important and it shows people what people have done and what they shouldn’t do.”
Claws’ next event at Starrlight Mead will be from 12 to 4 pm on July 30. It will be free to attend and all age groups are welcome.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.