The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS; Rte. 4 just west of Quechee Gorge, 802/359-5000, www.vinsnaturecenter.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Oct .; call for winter hours, $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 children 3–16, children 2 and under free) is simple in its concept—an outdoor semi-circle of cages underneath a large awning. But to call the feathery raptors inside the cages “birds” is like calling John Lennon “a musician.”
Over the years, Vermont Institute of Natural Science has made it its mission to rescue and rehabilitate birds of prey, including hawks, owls, and eagles, and display them for the education of visitors. Watching the raptors watch you is an unforgettable experience; behind their hooked beaks, these birds hold the deadly eyes of a killer. They become more accessible with the expert interpretation of the center’s trained staff, who know the habits and quirks of the birds inside and out.
Try to time your visit with a raptor educational program, at 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily (additional program at 1:30 p.m., Fri.–Sun.), during which you can see these predators take flight. Of course, the other prime time to visit is during feedings, just before dusk. In addition to the raptor exhibits, Vermont Institute of Natural Science also has an hour-long interpretive nature trail, and offers guided hikes into nearby Quechee Gorge .