Falconer looks to spread wings with nonprofit expansion
WESTON — Christine Peyreigne, a 2015 Weston High School graduate, has made a name for herself in the community.
At just 16 years old, Peyreigne had found a passion for birds of prey, and a desire to try offsetting some of the harm that comes to native wildlife that share space with humans.
Thus, Christine’s Critters was born in March 2016. The nonprofit, operated out of Peyreigne’s home, specializes in rehabilitating raptors and birds of prey. She also shares her bird knowledge through events at libraries, schools, and public outings.
“We are well-booked for programs at various venues throughout the state, and each time we do a program, word of mouth helps us get more programs,” Peyreigne said.
Now as a college senior at Mercy College in New York, Peyreigne is nearly ready to graduate with a veterinary science degree and spread her wings to expand the organization she has been building these past few years.
In addition to adding new educational programs to the mix, Peyreigne wants to purchase land for the business so she doesn’t have to share it with her personal home.
Peyreigne said she knew she wanted to spend her life teaching others about birds. Her passion for the creatures further developed when she became a falconer and started hunting with her red-tailed hawk, Theron.
A challenge for Peyreigne, however, has been finding space to house all the birds, since the organization operates at her home. There are aviaries and flight cages built on the property to house the birds and for the rehabilitation program.
“We are open to the public by appointment only until I can build my raptor center hopefully in the next few years,” Peyreigne said.
Upkeep for this passion also comes at a cost. The money spent per bird can get expensive with food, veterinary care, and medical supplies, Peyreigne said. The cost of food averages at about $22,000 per year to feed all the birds that stay permanently and in rehabilitation.
Christine’s Critters maintains a link to its Amazon wish list on its website, in case others with to purchase and donate supplies.
“We are so grateful for the support that many provide in donations, hiring us for educational programs, gifts from our Amazon Wish List, and more,” Peyreigne said. “We work hard with many other raptor rehabilitators in the state to try to network and get injured birds help in the quickest way possible.”
To obtain all her certifications and permits, it was a long and grueling process, Peyreigne said. At age 16, she became an apprentice falconer and began learning to hunt with Theron. As an apprentice, there were many tasks that included a written test, finding a sponsor, building a mews to house her bird, and then have everything inspected by the state.
For nearly three years, Peyreigne served as an apprentice and tested with the state, ultimately becoming a General Class Falconer.
At the age of 18, Peyreigne served as an apprentice to learn rehabilitation of injured birds of prey.
Currently, she is licensed by the state of Connecticut and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rehabilitate migratory birds including all birds of prey up to and including eagles.
Peyreigne then realized “right away” that many injured birds cannot be healed well enough to return to the wild.
“I applied and became a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in March of 2016, as that began Christine’s Critters,” Peyreigne said.
She then decided to expand her care to bald eagles.
“In order to be permitted to have a permanently injured bald eagle for educational purposes, you must be nonprofit,” she said.
After eight months and 500 hours of hands-on hours working with eagles, Peyreigne got fish and wildlife’s approval.
In October 2016, Peyreigne flew out to Illinois and returned with Aurora, a resident educational bald eagle.
“I worked hard to train her, and she made our program debut in March of 2018 at the Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Viewing Area and is now a very popular bird at many of our programs,” she said.
Currently, Christine’s Critters has 19 permanent resident non-releasable birds of prey that serve as education ambassadors, two falcon birds, and over 200 birds per year are admitted to rehabilitation.
Ambassadors are available to bring to schools, libraries, scouting events, parties, fairs and more.
In the programs, people are taught about the dangers of lead poisoning, rodenticides in the food chain that raptors rely on, and window strikes since birds cannot see glass; and generally the features these birds possess to survive and hunt in the wild.
In May, Peyreigne will present her critters to Weston Intermediate School third-graders, during which students can meet about birds and reptiles.
To donate from Christine’s Critters’ Amazon wish list, visit https://smile.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1XQYJ4ZIARHFH?&sort=default
For other ways to help, visit their website at: www.christinescritters.org/get_involved