Christine’s Critters takes flight in Weston

Christine Peyreigne with Aurora, a bald eagle she hopes to incorporate into educational programs. — Betsy Peyreigne photo

Christine Peyreigne with Aurora, a bald eagle she hopes to incorporate into educational programs. — Betsy Peyreigne photo

Few 20-year-olds are as dedicated to one thing as Christine Peyreigne is to animals.

The Mercy College junior and lifelong Westonite is in school to become a veterinarian. She is Connecticut’s only licensed female falconer, and most of her spare time is dedicated to growing her business, “Christine’s Critters.”

Christine’s Critters is a non-profit organization that specializes in rehabilitating raptors and birds of prey. Peyreigne operates Christine’s Critters from her Weston home. In addition to rehabilitation, she trains birds and takes them to educational programs.

Peyreigne is often booked at libraries, schools and birthday parties. She brings an assortment of her 18 raptors and teaches kids and adults about the birds, all while they perch on her arm for an up-close-and-personal twist.

Peyreigne feels confident that in the coming weeks, her newest bird can join the Christine’s Critters lineup — an American bald eagle name Aurora.

Aurora isn’t quite ready yet to be taken to programs, Peyreigne said. When the eagle first landed in Weston, it was skittish and took a long time to train, Peyreigne said, but she has made exceptional progress.

“Aurora had a bad wing injury when she came here — it’s something that we’re constantly working on,” said Peyreigne. “Building trust and getting her comfortable has taken longer than I expected, but I’m confident we’ll be able to get her to come out on programs in the new year.”

Aurora came from Illinois. She was hit by a truck and tumbled into the Mississippi River when she was a few months old. A rehabilitation center carried her for four years before Peyreigne drove halfway across the country to get the bird.

“I can finally walk into the cage and go up to her without her freaking out, thinking that I’m going to grab her,” said Peyreigne.

Peyreigne surmises that the ubiquity of the bald eagle will only help increase the popularity of her business, which is becoming an increasingly sought-after attraction.

“The bald eagle is easily the most well-known raptor in this country,” said Peyreigne. “Even if someone isn’t particularly interested in what I do, they’ll likely be intrigued by the bald eagle, it’s so recognizable.”

Christine’s Critters can have up to 30 programs booked in a month, Peyreigne said, but the average throughout the year is lower.

“We get a lot of programs with libraries, and those are great ways to reach new people,” she said. “You reach kids and they tell their parents and their teachers and it becomes a word-of-mouth thing.”

Christine Peyreigne and her hawk Manilla, one of 18 birds she takes to schools, libraries and events. — Betsy Peyreigne photo

Christine Peyreigne and her hawk Manilla, one of 18 birds she takes to schools, libraries and events. — Betsy Peyreigne photo

Peyreigne typically brings seven or eight birds, “a whole Suburban’s worth,” to each program. Additionally, she brings three or four of her many reptiles. Peyreigne works extensively in Connecticut, but travels as far as New York City and Boston to present her programs.

“I’ve gotten much better in the presentation aspect since I started this. I’ve included new things that kids can interact with; the whole program is constantly evolving,” she said. “It’s not a script — we go into the direction that the audience wants and it really makes every program different.”

In addition to Aurora, Peyreigne has welcomed new falcons and owls to her program. “The owls are always a big hit with kids,” she said.

Rehabilitation

Peyreigne projects that at the close of 2017 she will have taken care of 150 different birds.

“I’ll get calls that there is an injured hawk or owl and I’ll bring it in,” said Peyreigne. “They usually stay around three to five weeks before they’re ready to go back into the wild. Some stay longer and some can be released that week.”

In addition to the 18 birds that live in the rehabilitation cages constantly, Peyreigne said she houses between 30 and 35 total birds on average.

“It’s a lot of birds,” said Peyreigne. “I’m getting calls about injured birds constantly, 24 hours a day, whether someone hit an owl with their car at 11 p.m. or whether someone notices a hurt hawk at 5 a.m.”

Future

Peyreigne is in the veterinary science program at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She commutes, but often stays with her sister Nichole, who lives near the campus.

Between school, her business and other commitments, Peyreigne said, she doesn’t have much time for other things.

“This definitely hinders my social life a bit, but I don’t mind,” she said. “My friends are very understanding of what I do and why I do it.”

Despite that, Peyreigne has a clear vision of the next decade or so of her life.

“I want to have something that is open to the public and isn’t based out of my house,” she said. “A public location, something interactive like a nature center, where kids and families can come to see the birds every day.”

Peyreigne wants to work on making that vision a reality before she goes off to veterinary school, a graduate program, full-time.

“You can get a veterinary license at any time in life,” said Peyreigne. “I do want one so I can be the actual vet for the birds I am taking care of.”

Peyreigne is constantly looking for volunteers and donations to keep her work going.

“There are people who are very supportive of what I do and we really rely on their kindness,” she said. “Instead of getting presents for his birthday, one boy made a donation to help the birds. I was so touched by his selflessness.”

To learn more about Christine’s Critters, or how to help, visit her newly finished website, christinescritters.org/.

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