To the audience chant of “one, two, three!” a red-tailed hawk, held captive a moment before, leapt into the sky and circled high above the admiring crowd as they shielded their eyes from the sun.
An estimated 2,000 children and adults flocked Saturday to Elm Creek Park Reserve, bordering Osseo, Minn., to watch as the University’s Raptor Center released six rehabilitated birds back into the wild.
“Believe me, (releasing the birds is) the most natural high in the world. The first time I did it I was high for a week,” said MaryAnn Turnsley, a Raptor Center volunteer.
The Raptor Center, staffed mainly by volunteers, holds the releasing events twice a year — once in the spring and once in the fall.
“When it comes time to release the birds, they want out,” said MaryBeth Garrigan, the center’s coordinator of public relations and organizer of the event.
The event, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., was visited by more than humans. Pelicans, red-tailed hawks and broad-tailed hawks, not associated with the center, were seen flying overhead.
In addition to the release, volunteers answered questions about various hawks, eagles and owls that were on display. These birds, called Ambassadors, will never be released because their injuries are permanent. The other birds had been in rehabilitation for six months to a year.
“We want to send them out scared to death of us,” said Susan Irby, a volunteer at the center.
In conjunction with the release, Hennepin Parks naturalists conducted educational programs, including opportunities to take apart an owl pellet and build a full-scale replica of an osprey nest. Additionally, members of the Minnesota Falconers Association displayed and answered questions about their hunting falcons.
For the younger members of the crowd, musical groups Mr. Song-Strummin’ Story Man and the Soaring Voices Children’s Chorus performed throughout the day.
The Raptor Center, based on campus, is an international medical facility for birds of prey. Over 700 birds per year are brought to the center from all over the world. Because of its mostly volunteer staff, large facility and strong private support, the center has become recognized as one of the best of its kind in the world.
“The Raptor Center is considered the Mayo Clinic of avian facilities,” Garrigan said.