The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a quiet stretch at Chewonki, with no students on campus and many staff members away. That lull allowed Jessica Woodend, one of our Traveling Natural History Programs educators, to notice that the ladders in the aviaries needed attention. She stacked them in a wagon and pulled the wagon down to the wood shop, where she looked in on Scott Peterson, boat shop and wood shop manager. Scott is an accomplished boat and furniture builder but until Jessica appeared, bird ladders were outside his repertoire. She showed him that many years of use had left the five ladders badly scratched and gouged by talons and beaks, and that rot had weakened some parts. The screws on the rungs had worn away the wood around them so they spun freely, requiring the six owls that use them to do a careful balancing act as they ascended and descended. You may be wondering why owls need ladders. Answer: none of Chewonki’s birds can fly. The six owls we use for teaching in Traveling Natural History Programs are all flightless due to injuries earlier in their lives. The ladders allow them to move up and down between their perches and the aviary floor, to which food often falls from perches and where bowls of water sit (the owls enjoy water for drinking and bathing). Although they cannot fly, they try now and then, with impressive determination. The ladders help them the way a well-placed stepping stone saves a child who thought she could leap a stream but discovers halfway over that it’s a bit too wide. These bird ladders range from four to six feet long and five to twelve inches wide. Scott “notched the rungs into the rails of the ladder so each rung is affirmatively joined to both rails” and cannot spin, explains Scott. (These are the details that birds and bird ladder designers appreciate.) As he created the pieces, Jessica put them together. The new ladders now stand in the aviaries and they look as if they’ll last a long time. Jessica, Scott, and the owls are content. It was a good project for a quiet week. Learn more about Chewonki’s Traveling Natural History Programs here.