Raptor Center, food bank work together

Todd Milbourn

Ever since an eagle soared over Tim Page’s cabin, his boys have wanted to see one up close. They got their chance to look an eagle in the eye Sunday at the University’s Raptor Center.
At the same time, they witnessed the problem of hunger in the Twin Cities firsthand. Along with the Page family, other students, families and bird lovers flocked to the center for the third annual “Free an Eagle, Feed a Child” open house.
Held in conjunction with the Second Harvest St. Paul Food Bank, the open house educated visitors on two levels by teaching about raptors and the reality of Minnesota families going without enough food.
“Eagles always fly above our cabin, and here the kids can see them up close,” said Page of Minneapolis. “Plus, it helps a great cause.”
The Raptor Center operates much like a hospital for humans. More than 700 injured birds are brought to the emergency room every year to undergo tests and X-rays. Most come from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Two-thirds of the raptors admitted need surgery.
Currently, about 100 raptors are being treated at the center for ailments such as broken wings and lead poisoning. About 15 percent of the bird patients have been shot or trapped by humans.
“Our goal is to preserve biological diversity through rehabilitation, conservation and education,” said center spokeswoman Mary Beth Garrigan.
Much like human beings, injured raptors sometimes have trouble obtaining food.
Staff members with a Second Harvest St. Paul Food Bank truck collected canned goods brought by visitors. By donating 20 cans of nonperishable items, a visitor qualified for a photo-op with one of a number of eagles at the event.
Organizers said they hoped the event would help the food bank reach its goal of 5,000 pounds of food collected by the end of the year.
The cans collected will be delivered to more than 400 food pantries and homeless shelters throughout the state.
The popularity of the Raptor Center open house also preserves the name of Second Harvest in the community, said Karl Stevens, the food bank’s communications director.
“This comes at a great time and is one of our largest drives of the year,” Stevens said.
Working for the birds
Raptors are birds of prey such as eagles, owls, hawks and falcons.
One-fourth of the injured raptors are untreatable and put to sleep, and about 45 percent are diagnosed, stabilized and rehabilitated enough to be released back into the wild. The rest are kept as education birds.
“Exercise plays an important role in rehabilitation,” said Robert Haugen, one of the center’s 300 volunteers.
The recovering birds are tethered with a leather strap called a Jesse and encouraged to fly. The exercise redevelops the muscles weakened by injury and surgery and prepares the raptor for reintroduction to the wild.
“If the bird is strong enough to fly and catch food, we release him,” Haugen said.
But not all birds are so lucky.
Star is an 8-month-old juvenile red-tailed eagle and a Raptor Center patient. He came to Minnesota from Indiana this spring to be treated for a broken leg.
Frequent contact with humans and little experience in the wild during Star’s short lifetime has rendered him an imprint bird. He’s accustomed to human interaction and consequently stripped of his natural survival instincts.
“If you put him into the wild, he wouldn’t know to breed or hunt,” said Amber Brunette, another center volunteer. “He depends entirely on humans.”
Although Star is unable to return to the wild, he’ll be retained as an education bird and play an important role in Raptor Center research. Education birds allow researchers to study raptors’ behavior patterns and physical characteristics.
The Raptor Center is a world-wide leader in research and treatment, Haugen said.