Westport’s Earthplace seeks donations to feed birds, other animals

WESTPORT — They might not be songbirds, but the birds of prey at Earthplace’s Animal Hall are singing for their supper.

One of the staples of Animal Hall has been public feedings of its birds of prey. For years, area laboratories have donated frozen mice and other bird-friendly treats for the program, said Tony McDowell, Earthplace executive director. But, recently, he said, their sources stopped providing the food.

“So we have to fill that hole for the rest of the year,” he said.

Fortunately, McDowell said, some donors have offered to match all donations for the month of July, up to $20,000. Donations will go to the care and feeding of the roughly 50 animals on site at Earthplace, including the birds of prey. He said the nonprofit, which aims to teach children and their families about the natural world, uses its animals as a teaching tool.

“When you come for a visit and catch an animal presentation, we talk about where the animals live and what they eat,” McDowell said. “Once kids understand the animals and understand that humans can live in the same environment as animals, they understand nature a little better.”

But fostering that connection between animals and nature costs money. McDowell said food for the animals costs $71 a day and roughly $26,000 a year. The veterinary staff that cares for the critters costs $167 a day and up to $61,000 a year.

McDowell said the Eathplace pays for its veterinary staff and other services for the animals through donations, as well as membership and visitor fees. Throughout much of the pandemic, Earthplace exhibits have been closed to paid visitors, though the building has been open for preschool and camp programs, and the outdoor birds of prey exhibit was kept open for visitors during the past year free of charge.

The Earthplace building finally reopened to members and paid visitors on Tuesday, but McDowell said the organization is still largely dependent on donations.

“We have very generous donors,” he said.

Those interested in donating to Earthplace’s Animal Hall can visit earthplace.org.