A Day with Birds of Prey

I was driving past Bridger Bowl and noticed a sign stating that there was a Raptor Festival going on and so I immediately turned around. The parking areas were full, so I had to park a ways back and hike up the hill to the buildings above.

Perched on the back deck of the main lodge were a Swainson Hawk, a Great Horned Owl and a Turkey Vulture named Pilgrim. I introduced myself to Becky, the Director of the Center and Cynthia, a volunteer of 5 years.

I was invited to visit the Montana Raptor Conservation Center for the opportunity to speak more with the ladies and to observe some of the daily duties!

I really had no idea of what to expect as Sherry & I rolled up to the Center. After some initial introductions and basic information, we followed Becky & Cynthia around as they were beginning their daily duties. It was like a MASH Unit for Birds…basic supplies and lots of TLC.

The first bit of excitement was the banding of an …owl, for it was to be released that day! I would have never imagined this little thing to made clicking sounds. The gals were very gentle and caring for each bird they handled. They were quick at each task keeping in mind of the birds’ stress levels.

Then Emily showed up, she is one of the volunteers, one of her duties was to prepare the meals for the day for the raptors, consisting mainly of mice. It was only her second day as a volunteer and she seemed right at home preparing the morning feast, cutting up portions to bite size for the birds during their recovery.

Some of the birds received special treats such as quail, which had to be skinned. The center goes through approximately, 18,000 mice a year.

The Prairie Falcon was next on the agenda; it was his day for an x-ray as he had an injured wing. We were fortunate to watch the entire process. I was blown away at how systematically Becky & Cynthia worked together and how calm the wild bird seemed to be.

I’ll bet the whole x-ray process took them less than 5minutes. The falcon was then examined and released back to his barn with breakfast waiting. What an amazingly beautiful bird!

After all the meals were on the silver tray, we followed Cynthia from cage to cage to learn more about the birds and how the center operates. In the big outdoor “barn” were two Red Tail Hawks, which would soon be ready to be released back into the wild.

There were two more Red Tail Hawks in the loft of the barn in large cages. It seems owls, hawks, and falcons run into quite a few barbed wire fences.

As we went from building to building to feed the birds, we met an amazing female bald eagle. She had been “imprinted” by a human, which means the bird is used to people and means an automatic sentence to a “life in a cage”. The center has tried releasing her, but she likes people and gets in to trouble. Even in her cage, she can’t room with other eagles, as she will attack them.

We met the rest of the educational birds, called the “Ambassador Raptors”. They have each received injuries that prevent them from being released back into the wild. Each one is used for educational purposes, which means they get to travel and are used to teach the public about them.

If you know of or find an injured raptor in Montana, please contact:

-MRCC: 406-585-1211

-All West Veterinary Hospital (Dr. Karyn Cook): 406-586-4919MT.

-Dept. Of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks: 406-994-4042

It was quite interesting to me that each bird has it’s own personality, in how they eat and their interaction with different people. My personal favorite next to the Bald Eagle, is Chaco, a Swainson Hawk.

Swainson’s Hawks are summer residents of grassland and agricultural habitats in the Western U.S and Canada. They nest in trees and shrubs and lay 2-3 eggs in a fairly flimsy stick nest. The entire population is migratory and most of these birds travel great distances to winter in South America, primarily Argentina. The name “Chaco” is from the name of a province in northern Argentina where Swainson’s Hawks are known to concentrate in the winter.

The dedication and passion was quite apparent. These were the most amazing group of women I had met in a long time. Volunteering their time to save injured birds of prey and returning them to the wild is their passion.

Montana Raptor Conservation Center is a non-profit organization. They only are able to help injured birds through donations and from volunteers. MRCC sits on 13 acres with room to create a first rate Center to help injured raptors return to the wild to live their lives.

There are many ways you can help and Donations are always welcome!

Please visit the website: www.montanaraptor.org

Montana Raptor Conservation Center

P.O. Box 4061

Bozeman, Montana 59772

E -Mail; [email protected]

Please do what you can to help this great organization healing birds back to health and wellness. Also please watch for more articles on Raptors and bio’s on the Ambassador Raptors, in the near future.

Tom Ski is a master of the great outdoors. You can find Tom fly fishing in Montana, photographing elk and bison, watching birds from a hide or in the long grass, talking about life on his radio show and writing about his adventures at NewsBlaze.