The Animals

The Balsam Mountain Trust houses a collection of animals, most of whom, are native to the region. These animal ambassadors help bring life to our environmental education programs at schools, libraries, and other public facilities throughout the region. These animals come to us, by and large, from wildlife rehabilitation facilities, where they are deemed unable to be returned back to the wild.

Click on the pictures below to learn each animal’s unique story.

Rasta, Eastern Screech Owl

Rasta the Eastern Screech Owl - Megascops Asio

Rasta the Eastern Screech Owl – Megascops Asio

Rasta

Eastern Screech Owl, Megascps asio

Rasta comes to us from Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC. A car collision left him blind in one eye and unable to hunt in the wild. Rasta came to us as an adult, so we don’t know his age. Their lifespan in the wild is 3-5 years.
Click here to meet Rasta!

Did You Know?

  • Screech Owls weigh between 4.3 and 8.6 oz. That’s about as much as an apple!
  • Their scientific name roughly translates to “large little horned owl”. Maybe they’re big on personality?
  • Their “horns”, also known as “ear tufts”, are actually neither. Scientists believe these raised feathers help break up their silhouette to better hide from predators.

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Apollo, Harris' Hawk

Apollo the Harriss Hawk - Parabuteo Unicinctus

Apollo the Harriss Hawk – Parabuteo Unicinctus

Apollo

Harris’ Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus

Apollo was raised in captivity by an organization that provides raptors for falconry and education. He hatched May 2014 in Oregon.

Did You Know?

  • Harris’ hawks’ intelligence and social nature make them popular birds for falconry.
  • In the wild, they often hunt in groups of 2-6 allowing them to take down larger prey. This is extremely unusual for hawks who almost always hunt solo.
  • This species is native to the southwestern United States where they are commonly seen perching and nesting on saguaro cacti.; and they range into Central and South America.

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Oscar, Virginia Opossum

Oscar the Virginia Opossum - didelphis Virginiana

Oscar the Virginia Opossum – didelphis Virginiana

Oscar

Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana

Oscar’s mother was hit and killed by a car. He and his siblings were rescued, but their rescuer did not have a good understanding of their nutritional needs. They developed a bone disorder and a rehabilitator determined they would do better in captivity. Click here to meet Oscar!

Did You Know?

  • Opossums, or ‘possums as they are known in the South, are the only North American marsupial—a mammal that carries its young in a pouch.
  • The word “opossum” comes from the Algonquin word wapathemwa meaning “white animal” or “white dog”.
  • Possums make the perfect backyard neighbor. They do not contract rabies and they keep down Lyme disease by eating ticks—one of their favorite snacks!

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Merlin, Eastern Box Turtle

Merlin the Box Turtle - Terrapene Carolina

Merlin the Box Turtle – Terrapene Carolina

Merlin

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina

Merlin was found on a construction site, a dangerous place for a slow moving turtle. Despite several relocation attempts, he kept returning to his “home” so a wildlife rehabilitator determined he would be safer in captivity. We estimate he hatched in the 1970s.

Did You Know?

  • Their name comes from the “hinge” on their bottom shell that allows them to seal themselves in to thwart predators.
  • Males have orange to red eyes and females have brown to golden eyes.
  • Box turtles are completely terrestrial and cannot swim. They forage for greens, fruit, and insects on the forest floor.
  • State reptile of North Carolina

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Elsie, Sinoloan Milk Snake

Elsie the Sinoloan Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Elsie the Sinoloan Milk Snake – Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Elsie

Sinoloan Milk Snake, Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Elsie is a captive-bred milksnake. Milksnakes are relatives of the kingsnakes and are constrictors with a diet consisting mostly of rodents along with other cold-blooded prey.

Did You Know?

  • These snakes live in arid climates and get almost all their water needs from the prey they consume
  • Their body color mimics the aposematic coloration (warning colors) of the highly venomous coral snake, providing some protection from sighted predators.
  • They are non-venomous

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Luna, Barn Owl

Luna the Barn Owl - Tyto Alba

Luna the Barn Owl – Tyto Alba

Luna

Barn Owl, Tyto alba

Luna was raised in captivity by an organization that provides raptors for education. She hatched April 24, 2014 in New York.

Did You Know?

  • Barn owls have the best hearing of any animal ever tested. They are able to catch live mice in a pitch black room!
  • They have been associated with the supernatural in folklore all over the world, probably due to their eerie scream-like call.
  • Barn owls are the most widely distributed owl in the Northern hemisphere (referred to as circumpolar) with slight variations in size and color. The ones in North America are the largest.

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Cheyenne, Red Tailed Hawk

Cheyenne the Red Tailed Hawk - Buteo Jamaicensis

Cheyenne the Red Tailed Hawk – Buteo Jamaicensis

Cheyenne

Red Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

Cheyenne was taken from the wild illegally after just leaving the nest. She had not yet learned to be a wild hawk. Her partial imprinting on humans makes her unable to be returned to the wild.  She hatched in 2011 in Illinois.

Did You Know?

  • One of the largest and most common raptors in North America, red-tailed hawks are often seen surveying roadsides from electric poles and dead trees.
  • Despite their large size and average 4 ft. wingspan, these hawks only weigh around 3 lbs. This doesn’t stop them from taking down prey up to 5 lbs.!
  • Red-tailed hawks typically mate for life and aggressively defend their nests and territory.

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Beaufort, American Alligator

Beaufort the American Alligator - Alligator Mississippiensis

Beaufort the American Alligator – Alligator Mississippiensis

Beaufort

American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis

Beaufort comes to us from a nature preserve on Spring Island, SC. He was named by Balsam Mountain Preserve members for the county in which he hatched. Once he outgrows our facilities, he will return to South Carolina where he can be released in the preserve. Click here to meet Beaufort!

Did You Know?

  • Unlike most reptiles, alligator mothers guard their nests and care for their young. The babies “yip” in their eggs before hatching to alert their mother. She then unburies the eggs and then gently carries the hatchlings to the water in her powerful jaws. They’ll stay with her for about a year before finding their own territory.
  • Alligators typically live between 35 and 50 years in the wild but it is estimated that some may live into their 80s.

Learn More!

Orville, Corn Snake

Orville Redenbacher the Corn Snake - Pantherophis guttatus

Orville Redenbacher the Corn Snake – Pantherophis guttatus

Orville Redenbacher

Corn Snake, Pantherophis guttatus

The corn snake, or red rat snake, is arguably the most common (and favorite) snake seen in reptile pet collections because of its mostly gentle nature (common in rat snakes). It is a constrictor and so wraps its prey in its body coils to suffocate, break bones and stop the heart. Orville is a captive-bred snake.

Did You Know?

  • The corn snake moniker is derived from either the fact that they are often found in and around farms or that the pattern on their undersides reminds us of Indian corn (maize).
  • They are non-venomous

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Grandpa, Timber Rattlesnake

Grandpa Rattler the Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus

Grandpa Rattler the Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus

Grandpa Rattler

Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus

Grandpa was taken out of the wild illegally and could not be returned to its birth place due to human activity. The timber rattlesnake is now listed as a species of special concern (just below threatened status) as they are still persecuted – mostly because they are so misunderstood. This species specializes in a lie-and-wait type hunting – which is also what keeps them hidden from possible interactions with humans. They are one of the most effective rodent-control machines we have in the mountains.

Did You Know?

  • Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle a warning before striking
  • They don’t always/automatically inject venom when biting defensively
  • They produce relatively few young based on how long they may live
  • You can’t tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting the number of rattle segments on their tails

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Hope, Bald Eagle

Hope the Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus Leucocephalus

Hope the Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus Leucocephalus

Hope

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Hope comes to us from the American Eagle Foundation in Tennessee after a gunshot wound left her flightless. She hatched in 2010. Thank you to the Balsam Mountain Preserve Members for naming her!

Did You Know?

  • In the wild eagles eat mainly fish and carrion. They “catch” much of their food by stealing it from other birds and scavenging.
  • Bald eagles may reuse their nests, adding more material each year. They can be more than 6 ft. in diameter and the largest on record weighed 4 tons!
  • Now considered a conservation “success story,” bald eagles were nearly extinct in the Continental United States just 40 years ago.

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Chayton, American Kestrel

Chayton The American Kestral - Falco Sparverius

Chayton The American Kestral – Falco Sparverius

Chayton

American Kestrel, Falco sparaverius

Chayton was taken out of the wild as a fledgling and raised in captivity. After being confiscated by the state of Utah, he was deemed unfit to the return to the wild due to human imprinting. He hatched in 2011.

Did You Know?

  • Kestrels will store, or “cache”, extra food to hide it from scavengers and save for later.
  • American kestrels display sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look different from one another. Males are smaller and have slate-colored wings, a red tail with a dark banded tip, and spotting on their sides. Females’ wings and tail are reddish brown with dark streaks and stripes.

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Rusty, American Kestrel

Rusty the American Kestral - Falco sparverius

Rusty the American Kestral – Falco sparverius

Rusty

American Kestrel, Falco sparaverius

Rusty was hit by a car in Washington state and received injuries that necessitated the partial amputation of her left wing. She came to us as an adult, so we are unsure of her age.

Did You Know?

  • Kestrels are the smallest falcon species in North American and despite being birds of prey, they often end up prey themselves for larger raptors.
  • Their ability to see ultraviolet light allows them to follow the urine trails of small mammals like mice.
  • American kestrels depend on old woodpecker cavities for nesting sites. Once a male finds a suitable site and the female approves, she lays the eggs directly in the cavity without any additional nesting material.

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Onyx, Black Rat Snake

Oynx the Black Rat Snake - Pantherophis obsoletus

Oynx the Black Rat Snake – Pantherophis obsoletus

Onyx

Black Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus

Onyx is one of the black rat snakes we ‘rotate’ through our collection because they are so common on the Preserve. They are the largest (longest) snake non-venomous snake found in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Did You Know?

  • They can reach lengths of 7 feet or more
  • They are powerful constrictors
  • They are excellent tree climbers as they hunt for birds’ and squirrels’ nests.

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Penny, Copperhead

Penny the Copperhead - Agkistrodon contortrix

Penny the Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix

Penny

Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix

Penny is a wild-caught copperhead whose native land was destroyed by a subdivision. Copperheads are the least aggressive and least venomous of the ‘pit’ vipers found in North America. The term pit viper comes from the pair of holes located between the nostrils and the eyes, which are sensitive to infra-red heat. They eat mostly warm-blooded prey and are most active at night.

Did You Know?

  • Hatchling copperheads have a yellow-colored tip of their tail, which they use as a lure to attract prey
  • The hourglass markings on their backs are distinctive as no other snake has them
  • Their venom is referred to as hemotoxic which destroys tissue

Learn More!