From inside one of four wooden crates that were positioned at the back of the classroom, a female great horned owl hooted in a low tone, seemingly calling out to the group of students who were gathering to hear the story of her life.

And according to Wind Over Wings president and founder Hope Douglas, every bird — whether in captivity or living in the wild — has a unique life story.

“And they’ve all got their own personalities,” Douglas told a group of Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education students.

But the birds that travel with Douglas as part of the nonprofit’s mission to educate the public about wildlife are especially unique. Their life stories are known in detail because it’s almost always harm brought onto the birds by humans, either directly or indirectly, that lead these animals to places like Wind Over Wings.

Ideally, Douglas said, the organization she founded in Connecticut in 1989 aims to help injured birds find their way back to the sky, and back into the wild. But the wounds of some of the rescued birds are too great and would mean a death sentence in the natural world.

Those birds live out their days at Douglas’ Dresden-based bird sanctuary, an operation that came to Maine from Connecticut in June, and they spend a lot of time visiting places like schools, libraries and churches.

“They’re all part of our teaching faculty,” said Douglas.

Feb. 10, Douglas introduced students at BCOPE to four of the organization’s feathered residents, all of which were members of a family of birds known as raptors. The word “raptor,” explained Douglas, means “to grab” and refers to the long and sharp talons that each of them is born with. The curved beak serves as the “knife and fork” for these birds of prey, and all have eyes that are positioned on the front side of their skulls.

Douglas said the position of a raptors’ eyes is unlike that of a bird that might be considered food, as those birds typically have eyes on either side of their heads so they might see a predator approaching.

The first raptor to meet the students was Pippin, a 7-year-old female saw whet owl that was rescued in Rockland in 2010. Douglas said Pippin flew into a window, which may have occurred because she saw the reflection of a safe branch in the glass. Pippin was taken to Avian Haven in Freedom for rehabilitation, and there it was learned she suffered permanent damage to one of her wings and that she has limited vision, which may have been a contributing factor to the accident or a result of it, Douglas said.

When volunteer Helen Frazier displayed the tiny bird, which Douglas said is the smallest species of owl living in Maine, Pippin immediately showcased one of her defense mechanisms  — puffing up all of her feathers to make herself appear much larger.

“She’s mighty in spirit,” said Douglas, who noted that Pippin shrank back to her normal size as she became more comfortable with her surroundings. Pippin, Douglas said, weighs about as much as a candy bar.

Pippin has a boyfriend back at the sanctuary, Teddy Owl, and he is 13 years her senior. He, said Douglas, has an especially moving story.

Teddy Owl, Douglas said, got his name when he was a youngster that had recently come into Douglas’ care. The then-unnamed bird was part of a presentation that Wind Over Wings provided at the 12th birthday party of a boy named Teddy Ebersol, the son of actress Susan St. James and NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol. Children at the party decided to name the owl Teddy after their host, and Douglas said the name stuck.

But two years later, tragedy struck the Ebersol family when Teddy was killed in a plane crash at the age of 14. Douglas and Teddy Owl were invited to the boy’s memorial service.

“Teddy [Owl] did a memorable job,” said Douglas.

With Teddy’s parents’ permission, Douglas launched the Teddy Fund, which was created as a way for anyone to make a donation to Wind Over Wings in memory of a loved one. The money covers the cost of giving presentations to children with special needs.

“This is one way his memory lives on,” said Douglas of the boy.

The next bird to take center stage put a face with the hoots that were echoing from the crate — it was a female great horned owl named Queen Solomon (or Sollie, for short).

Sollie, the bird that issued the occasional hoot throughout her introduction to the students, is a 17-year-old that came to Wind Over Wings after she fell from the nest as a baby in 1997. An elderly woman saw the owlet fall and immediately went outside to collect the bird — a move that Douglas called a well-intended mistake.

Contrary to the popular belief that suggests a mother bird will shun a baby that has had contact with people, Douglas said a baby bird can be put back into its nest and still be cared for by its mother.

The woman started feeding Sollie bread instead of mice, which are usually a staple in the diet of a great horned owl. And worse, the animal grew more comfortable with people by the day. By the time Sollie arrived at Wind Over Wings, she was what Douglas called “imprinted.”

“She became imprinted on human beings, which means she looks at you like you’re her family,” said Douglas.

Sollie has always been more interested in humans than in other owls, even those of her own species, but has been a valuable addition to the teaching team.

The great horned owl can apply 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch with its talons, Douglas said, and they can hear a mouse moving under snow, even when perched on a high tree branch. Like all owls, Douglas said Sollie has the ability to fly silently at night due to the fringe-like texture of her wings.

Next up was a 22-year-old red tailed hawk named Sabre. Prior to coming to Wind Over Wings, Sabre spent 18 years working with a master falconer in Massachusetts named Larry Keating. Keating found Sabre as a baby after a predator had caused damage to the young hawk’s feet. After helping Sabre recover, Keating trained her for the sport of falconry.

Sabre came to Wind Over Wings after Keating started to see signs of aging in the bird, and a medical checkup at Tufts University revealed that Sabre had cataracts. Because Sabre was accustomed to a captive setting, Keating decided the best retirement home for her was with Douglas.

While Sabre is approaching the latter part of the average life span for a red tailed hawk, Douglas hopes Sabre will be around a few more years to come.

“They can live to be about 30,” said Douglas.

Last but not least was the presentation of Skywalker, a 17-year-old golden eagle that has lived in captivity since he was rescued in Nebraska when he was 2 years old. At that time, Douglas said, Skywalker was grounded for good.

“Somebody picked up a gun and shot him right out of the sky,” said Douglas.

Fortunately, a man who was educated about raptors found Skywalker. With leather gloves and other safety tools, the man transported Skywalker to a veterinarian. Skywalker’s caregivers ended up amputating the bird’s right wing due to the injury.

The wildlife rehabilitation center where Skywalker was being treated decided to send him to Wind Over Wings to live out his days, but Douglas said the bird was hard-pressed to forget that the gift of flight was taken away from him so abruptly.

Douglas said Skywalker was exhibiting signs of anger when he arrived. Because he could no longer fly, he was placed in an aviary with platforms of varying heights so that he could still get to the highest point in the room. For a while, Douglas recalled, Skywalker would climb to a shelf that was eye level and would remain perched there, with his back to the people who were charged with caring for him.

Slowly but surely, Douglas said, she and Wind Over Wings volunteers were able to earn Skywalker’s trust.

“I started reading to him,” said Douglas. “And over time, he began to get curious.”

These days, Skywalker is a regular at the raptor presentations, and he now “salutes” his audiences by raising his remaining wing.

Skywalker, said Douglas, has left a lasting impression on many of the people who have met him. Once, when Douglas brought Skywalker to the Special Olympics, a young girl who was participating in the games stopped to admire him. After a few moments, Douglas learned why the girl found Skywalker to be so intriguing.

“She looked at him and said, ‘You’re just like me,'” remembered Douglas.

Because part of the aim of the educational program is to encourage environmental stewardship, Douglas reminded the students about why littering is so harmful to all wildlife.

A soda can left in the woods can take 200 years to biodegrade, said Douglas, and in that time it can cause countless injuries to small animals that may be cut from walking on it, or from trying to obtain rain water that may gather inside it. The plastic bindings from a six-pack can entangle birds and other small animals and cause strangulation, while a discarded yogurt container can spell trouble for an animal that gets its head stuck inside.

“There’s no first aid kit in the woods,” she said.

To learn more about Wind Over Wings, visit