Educators from the Raptor Center of the University of Minnesota hosted a family event featuring live birds of prey last night at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls. The presentation was part of Bald Eagle Awareness Week, a series of educational events held throughout the state.
Established in 1974 as part of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, The Raptor Center rehabilitates more than 750 to 800 sick and injured raptors each year. As hunters, raptors need optimal health to survive in the wild. The Center receives calls about injured birds from a five state region, as well as some birds from around the world. People from highway patrol to members of the general public also physically bring in injured birds.
Rescuing a large raptor in distress isn’t necessarily easy. Raptor Center Curator of Educational Birds Kate Hanson recommends that if you come upon a bald eagle or other bird of prey that has sustained an injury and decide to move it yourself, you wrap the bird in a towel to protect yourself from its talons, then place it in a box. Most of the time, you’re probably better off calling your local Game, Fish and Parks administrator.
The Center sees over 100 bald eagles per year, with the majority of cases occurring during spring and fall migrations. A bald eagle with a serious injury like a broken wing may need to spend up to a year at the Center before it can be released back into the wild.
Some birds that make it to the Raptor Center are injured too seriously to make it back into the wild, though if a bird can survive the first 48 hours after the injury, it has about a 50 percent chance of being fully rehabilitated.
The birds that travel with Kate Hanson to educate the public about raptors have sustained injuries serious enough to prevent their reintroduction to the wild. They have completed extensive training to interact with humans amicably and resist the primordial call of the wild, for the most part, during demonstrations.
Physical injuries are not the only circumstance that can disable a raptor. The American Kestrel that entertained last night is psychologically disabled, an unintentional victim of “imprinting by humans.” She was rescued when her nesting habitat was destroyed, but her human rescuers kept her for two weeks before giving her to the Raptor Center. That two weeks during a crucial time in her mental development was enough to disable her. For that reason, it’s recommended that if you find injured or abandoned chicks you turn them over to wildlife rehabilitation specialists as soon as possible.
The Raptor Center of the University of Minnesota will hold another presentation tomorrow (Feb. 28) at the Ramkota River Center in Pierre. The Outdoor Campus in Rapid City will also host a free raptor-themed event, tomorrow at 10am MT. Bald Eagle Awareness Days have been held in South Dakota since 1993 to raise awareness of our national bird among school children as well as the general public.