Popcorn Park Deer Get a Little Help from their Friends

May 11, 2021

Thanks to our Long Time Supporters,
our Deer have new Feeders!

When we say that we have the greatest supporters here at AHS/Popcorn Park, we truly mean it. From a single case of dog food to an enormous donation, like this one, we continue to be so incredibly grateful for the support of the compassionate, generous people that make our important work here possible.
Jeff and Diane Vogel from RWV Land and Livestock have been longtime supporters of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge and every year, they stop by to make their very generous donation and visit with Popcorn Park Director, John Bergmann, our zookeepers, and of course, our animals that call our park home.

When they visited recently, Jeff noticed an issue with our deer hay feeders that he himself had encountered at their farm. We have many deer that live here at Popcorn Park Animal Refuge due to a variety of circumstances that rendered them unable to be released back into the wild. Jeff came up with a design for a new, more efficient hay feeder which helps immensely in eliminating any hay being wasted by falling on the ground or getting wet from the elements. Jeff set out to build us a new hay feeder and five days later, it was completed!

Jeff made the arrangements to have the new feeder moved into our deer yard and it was an instant hit with our herd! The savings on wasted hay is invaluable to us, but the generosity of Jeff and Diane is immeasurable. We truly couldn’t do all of the good that we do here without wonderful people like Jeff and Diane Vogel, and so many others that never forget animals in need. Thank you once again Jeff and Diane!

LACEY – Dogs are barking. Kids are chatting. Up in the trees, birds are chirping.

None of it fazes the newest star at Popcorn Park Animal Refuge — Artemis the falcon. At least, not while a custom-made hood sits over her eyes. This is a retirement community for Artemis, age 9, after years of working at Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, Bergen County. There, she performed for thousands of revelers at the renowned dinner theater, demonstrating the ancient art of falconry on command.

But the pandemic hit her hard. Medieval Times closed for well over a year. When it reopened, well, things were different.

“When it came time to resume putting on the show, she had put on some weight, just like the rest of us during COVID, and she became a little less athletic,” explained Danny Mendez, Popcorn Park Animal Refuge’s assistant director. “In the show falcons circle an indoor arena and come back when they’re called. Artemis decided she didn’t want to come back anymore. She would land on some people’s tables, eat their food and she even took somebody’s scarf.”

Animals do have a way of expressing their feelings.

“They thought it was time for her to retire,” Mendez said.

So Artemis retired to Ocean County in early March. But she didn’t get condo and play pickleball. She moved into Mendez’s home in the Bayville section of Berkeley, so they could bond.

And bond they have. Despite all the hubbub around her Tuesday afternoon, Artemis perched on Mendez’s bent arm — an extended arm signals that it’s time to fly, while a bent one puts her at ease — and chilled.

“This is the ideal retirement for a falcon like her,” Mendez said. “She will maintain her diva status, but she doesn’t have to work for it. All she has to do is sit here and look pretty while I dazzle people with facts about her. As long as she doesn’t eat any children, it will be a successful day.”

Mendez has a good sense of humor. Artemis won’t attack children. When the hood comes off, however, it’s game on for this remarkable bird of prey.

‘An incredible force of nature’

Artemis — named after the Greek goddess of wild animals and hunting — is a hybrid falcon specially bred by Medieval Times. She’s two feet tall and majestically patterned. Her kind can fly as fast as 240 mph in a straight-line pursuit of prey.

“One of the world’s fastest animals,” Mendez said. “An incredible force of nature.”

A Hudson County-raised zoologist, Mendez has worked at the Bronx Zoo and Liberty Science Center. He arrived at Popcorn Park last year to assist longtime director John Bergmann and is focused on offering public education sessions with “ambassador animals” such as Artemis and Dizzy the Opossum, who survived being hit by a car and was nursed back to health by Mendez and fellow staff.

“It’s important that people have these interactions,” Mendez said. “With bears and monkeys (two of Popcorn Park’s most popular inhabitants), there is still physical separation. When you don’t have that, there’s a chance that interaction is going to lead to a lifetime of love and interest for somebody.”

Part of the educational session will be advice on what humans can do to help falcons, such as avoiding using poisons to kill mice and rats (which often winds up sickening falcons who eat them) and putting decals on large windows to prevent these majestic speed-flyers from crashing into them during pursuits.

In mid-April, during spring break, Mendez debuted Artemis on his wrist in a public “test run” for what will be a regular feature this summer. It was a huge success — for Artemis and enthralled kids.

“How often do you get to stand three feet from a falcon like this?” he said.

The hood comes off

Although Mendez praised Medieval Times’ staff for their treatment of animals, he had to start from scratch with Artemis when she moved into his duplex in March.

“For the first three or four days, she would fly away the second I walked into the room,” he said. “Then she was like, ‘You can feed me.’ Then when she saw me, she would associate me with positivity.”

Mendez became Artemis’ de facto dietician, helping her lose weight so she could be comfortable again (her dietary staple is frozen mice). She won’t, however, be flying for the public.

“We’re not going to free-fly her,” he said. “This is not the right environment. She’s used to an indoor arena. Here we have a ton of wild animals — too much stimulation. It would be a really short show if we introduced her and she attached herself to a peacock.”

To prove the point, Mendez removed Artemis’ hood. Her head immediately darted in five directions, as if on a swivel. Her feathers fanned out. The birds in the treetops were of particular interest. Lunch, perhaps? Twice, she tried to take off after them, but a tether kept her on Mendez’s glove (known as a gauntlet).

After a few minutes Mendez slipped the hood back on and all was calm. Time for some treats as a reward.

“The hood is great — I wish we had them for kids,” he joked. “We would sell them in the gift shop.”

Artemis could be a Popcorn Park resident for many years to come. Falcons can live into their 30s and respond well to people. It’s not a bad retirement gig, hanging on Mendez’s arm, impressing visitors and maybe even inspiring a few.

“She is a spectacular ambassador for us,” he said.

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