Foundation helps Raptor Center with gray owl care

Jerret Raffety

Caring for great gray owls continues at the University’s Raptor Center, but the bills are adding up.

Julia Ponder, the Raptor Center associate director, said caring for the large number of injured birds is nearing $45,000 in medical bills.

To help the situation, the Raptor Center and the Katherine B. Andersen Fund of the Saint Paul Foundation have begun raising money to help pay for care.

The fund agreed to match money collected from the public by the Raptor Center up to $40,000. The money will pay for an unexpected amount of medical care for the large influx of injured great gray owls this winter, Ponder said.

The Raptor Center’s collection exceeded $20,000 on Thursday, Ponder said.

“We will continue to make every effort to keep fund raising to get the fullest match possible,” Ponder said.

The Raptor Center has received another 30 injured great gray owls in March, bringing the total since Nov. 1 to 106, Ponder said. This is high compared with an average of one to three per year, she said.

More are brought in each week, Ponder said.

The total cost of the medical care is not determined yet, but it is estimated at approximately $45,000 so far, Ponder said.

The added cost has forced a reorganization of the Raptor Center’s priorities, she said.

“This is usually a slow time of year (for treating injured animals), when we focus on research, teaching and publications,” Ponder said. “We’ve had to put much of this off to treat these injured birds.”

The added cost has strained the Raptor Center’s finances, Ponder said.

“Sixty percent of our operating budget is philanthropy,” Ponder said. “Usually, the month of December brings a large bounty of donations, but a major portion of them have gone toward medical care for the owls.”

Ponder said she expects the influx to taper off as the great gray owls migrate north for their mating season.

Some staff members said they are confident they can accommodate the unusual arrival, but their budget could not without a fund-raising effort.

“We’ve dealt with things like this in the past,” said Dr. Hugo Lopes, a Raptor Center staff veterinarian.

The Raptor Center is working at the pace it normally would during its busy summer and fall seasons, Lopes said.

“Financially, this influx of owls is something that would make a difference, whether small or large, we’re not sure,” he said.

“The matching grant from the Katherine B. Andersen Fund is a great opportunity that came at the exact right time to lessen that financial impact.”

Carrie Jo Short, a senior program officer with the Saint Paul Foundation, said the unexpected nature of the need caught the fund’s attention.

“The unexpected need meant that, in this case, the Board of Directors felt that we should help meet that need,” Short said.

The Saint Paul Foundation is an organization that raises money through private donations to be reinvested in the community, she said.