Rapture with Raptors
Whether they are soaring the open skies, perched atop a tall tree alongside an open meadow, or hunting on silent wings, the birds of prey, or raptors, are truly wonders to behold. For the past 8 years I have felt extremely privileged to be able to work with these special birds. As a licensed rehabilitator and educator I take in sick, orphaned and injured raptors and help to give them back their freedom. About 25-45 raptors pass through my facilities annually, with a high percentage of them successfully rehabilitated and released.
There are several reasons why I get these birds in for rehabilitation. The majority of birds come in with injuries, primarily from collisions with automobiles, windows and power lines. I receive several birds each year that have been shot even though it is a federal offense to harm a raptor in any way. Every year I get in baby raptors that have become orphaned&emdash; either truly from the death of one or both parents, or from humans taking them out of the wild. And, lastly, I receive several raptors annually that are suffering from environmental contamination. In 1997, I saw an increase in the number of birds with high toxicity levels. Following are a few examples: I received a young hatch-year Bald Eagle that was covered tip to tail with a thick, odorous petroleum oil. After 3 exhausting baths totaling 7, hours he was finally cleaned but was critically ill. I was able to stabilize him with medications and supportive care for 6 days, then shipped him to the Minnesota Raptor Center where his care and treatments were continued. This young eagle had a happy ending for he was released with 2 other youngsters in the late fall. I also received a Red Tailed Hawk that was severely ill. His weight was at a critical low and his coordination was very poor. Blood work revealed pancreatic trouble from heavy metal poisoning. This bird has really come a long way since his admission last August. He now perches very well, is flying around his aviary and will also eat on his own&emdash;all things he could not do when he first arrived. But, there are lasting side effects from lead poisoning, poor circulation and brain damage to name a few, and this hawk exhibits both of these effects As a result he will spend the rest of his life with me, as an ambassador for all hawks, at my educational presentations. Two other birds that I received this past year with suspected environmental poisonings both died shortly after being admitted. Their bodies have been sent downstate for necropsy at a DNR lab and the results are still pending.
To help inform and educate people about the needs and requirements of raptors, I travel around the area presenting programs. Accompanying me to these programs are several permanently disabled raptors&emdash;the true ambassadors. My family of raptors includes a Barred Owl, who was hit by a car, a Rough-legged Hawk, who collided with a van, a Great Horned Owl, with a genetic eye problem (a suspected consequence of the thinning ozone layer), a Short-eared Owl that was shot several years ago, and the Red Tailed Hawk mentioned above. All of these birds were disabled because of human interaction or impact. My programs and these birds have reached audiences of all sizes and ages. The health and future of the raptors is in a very fragile state and it is imperative that people become aware of this situation and take action now. I am greatly concerned about the dwindling populations of many of the raptor species. Most raptors require large, contiguous land masses to be able to hunt and raise their families successfully. Yet every year I see hundreds of acres in our region being clear-cut, leveled and developed for human use. Many of the winter sites for these birds are being destroyed at alarming rates. We need the raptors; they are vital to a healthy ecosystem. All creatures have a biotic right to live in a healthy environment. A single mid-sized raptor alone can eat over 2,000 rodents in just one year. Yes, raptors truly make for great neighbors!
I encourage one and all to make safe, conscientious choices in life that will not be harmful to the wild life and the environment. These choices could include the elimination of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, reducing electrical needs, leaving mature or dying trees standing so cavity-nesting animals have a place to live, and helping to preserve and protect the last of our undeveloped lands. Putting up human-made nest boxes is also a way to help many of the wild animals. Several different species of raptors, including the falcons and owls, will use these boxes. Plans can be found in books or you can contact me for a specific blueprint.
I am often asked why I do this work. No, I do not get paid nor do I get reimbursed from the DNR. I do this work because it brings me great joy. Raptors are extraordinary creatures. Over the past years I have learned much from them. Raptors have taught me about beauty and they have taught me about existence. But mostly, they have taught me about patience and how to listen.
If you would like to sponsor a raptor through its rehabilitation process or sponsor one of the educational birds, your tax exempt donation will be used wisely and be greatly appreciated.
Donations accepted through the Neahtawanat Research and Education Center.
Return to the Index of Synapse 43, Spring 1998