aptor Center cares for birds, educates people

Fabiana Torreao

Two years ago, six-year-old Tony Gonzalez found a barn swallow in his backyard. The bird was small and sick. Gonzalez kept it in a sock inside a shoe box for a few days before his parents brought the ill bird to the University’s Raptor Center.
Developed 26 years ago, the Raptor Center rehabilitates more than 700 birds each year. The center held its semiannual bird release Saturday at the Hyland Visitor Center in Bloomington.
“It’s a sight of freedom,” said Tony’s mother Jean Gonzalez. “It’s such a good feeling to know that these birds were hurt and taken care of.”
The Gonzalez’s small barn swallow was badly injured and died within a few months, but Tony Gonzalez, now eight years old, enjoys seeing the release of the rehabilitated ones.
“You get to hear what happened to them and it’s a good feeling to see them flying again,” he said after watching three rehabilitated raptors flap their wings.
The Raptor Center was developed in 1974 to rehabilitate injured birds and study eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. The center focuses on three missions: rehabilitation, conservation and education.
Events such as Saturday’s bird release serve to educate the public about the importance of birds of prey, said Sheila Bayle-Lissick, the center’s development director. Generally, threats to raptor health present a threat to human health as well, she said.
A current concern regarding raptor health is lead poisoning.
Predatory and scavenging birds get lead poisoning by eating the flesh of an animal that has been shot. The lead in the bullet gets to the raptor’s stomach. Once ingested, lead doesn’t leave the body – leading to visual, hearing and coordination impairments and making the bird more vulnerable to secondary threats, said Patrick Redig, the center’s director.
Most birds at the center, however, have people-related injuries such as colliding with buildings, windows, power lines and moving vehicles.
Carrying a small saw-whet owl named Echo on her left hand, Bayle-Lissick explained to the audience how the little bird thought of himself as a human. When an owl’s eyes are developing, the owl will associate with the other owls and identify itself as one of them. But in the case of Echo, he saw people, and therefore identified himself as a person, she said.
The Raptor Center is mostly privately funded. Support for its programs comes from its members, donations and organizations such as Northwest Airlines, Target, 3M and Petsmart.

Fabiana Torreao welcomes comments at [email protected]