The Ottumwa Courier

Ottumwa

January 14, 2013

SOAR volunteers use feathered friends to share information

OTTUMWA — It takes special training and skill for a person to survive in the wild. But outdoor enthusiasts warn it can be tough for wild creatures to survive in and around the human landscape.

SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources) volunteer Linette Bernard was showing a physically healthy red-tailed hawk to visitors at the 2013 Eagle Watch. Their booth in Bridge View Center was one of the larger vendor areas.

SOAR was letting attendees get a close-up look at some of the raptors that live in Iowa: an owl with eyes wide to allow more light in, an American bald eagle with a leash on its talons and the hawk, which, of the three, seemed most comfortable around humans.

Unfortunately, said Bernard, that’s part of the bird’s problem.

“It’s an ‘imprint,’” she said.

A person, probably meaning well, found the young hawk and adopted it.

“It doesn’t know it’s a hawk,” Bernard said.

It tilts its head back to eat, like it did when it was a baby, because it never learned to hunt or eat other than being fed by hand. The hawk, now named Bella, still doesn’t know how to fly.

Bella’s job now is to help teach the public what to do — or not to do — when they find a downed raptor.

The number one thing about raptors, birds that hunt and kill for a living, is that a parent teaches them how to survive. And despite the staff’s expertise at rehab centers like SOAR, they allow a creature without a college degree to do some of the most important work — a bird of that species that is a permanent resident.

“We have an [injured] female owl. When we get another owl, a baby, we give the food to the mother owl. She tears it up and feeds the baby owls. She’s [cared for] 10 baby owls this year,” said Bernard. “She does a better job than we do.”

Bernard cited some information from SOAR’s website. The page includes ways to care for an injured raptor, including the fact that usually the quicker the juveniles are with an accepting member of the same species, the better.

It’s not as easy as it looks. First of all, a dehydrated raptor cannot eat until it’s been rehydrated. That’s not something you want to try yourself, staff members said.

People can observe the raptor to determine if the bird is actually injured. Look for bleeding, a droopy wing, a broken bone, flies or maggots on the bird or if it doesn’t move if approached. Next, note (for reporting) the exact location of the bird and survey the area to make sure that no other animal, like a dog or cat, can get to the bird.

Then call an expert. In southeast Iowa, the nearest county conservation board office may be able to help, as could the local Iowa DNR Conservation Officer. And if you’re uncertain, SOAR welcomes calls no matter where you are.

Other staff members Saturday were showing the public other dangers to the eagles, which brought a crowd to the Eagle Watch.

One visitor, Bob Meyers of Ottumwa, said he’s very happy there are American bald eagles around Iowa again.

“They were almost extinct in the lower 48 states,” he said.

Before Ottumwa had an eagle event, he visited the celebrations hosted in other areas.

These days, he said, there are more eagles being spotted along the Des Moines River than on the Mississippi.

And that’s refreshing, he believes, because having an eagle watch locally is good for Ottumwa.

What isn’t good, volunteers told him and other audience members, is how many of the creatures are killed unnecessarily each year.

Some of the fatalities are accidental, others can be avoided and a few are outright malicious. This winter, a juvenile red-tailed hawk had to be euthanized after having its wing bones ripped open by a pellet gun, an eagle died after it was electrocuted perching on a power line and another died from lead poisoning after scavenging a meal from an animal killed with lead shot.

The web page Bernard directed visitors to showed that in less than 12 months last year, wildlife rehabilitators in Iowa took in 44 sick eagles. It turns out that 34 of these were lead poisoning cases, usually from eating animals, small birds or scavenging gut piles that have lead ammunition used by hunters.

Of the 34 of Iowa’s American bald eagles that tested positive for lead poisoning, 28 died.

If it wasn’t for lead poisoning, the staff members said, only 10 eagles would have been brought in for rehab. But the hunters are also outdoor enthusiasts, volunteers said, and many are concerned about the well being of the environment. Copper bullets and steel shot are some of the alternate ammunition choices available.

One volunteer said hunters are getting the message and switching to other ammunition that is effective at taking game but is not poisonous to eagles.

SOAR can be contacted at 712-830-6116. Their website is www.soarraptors.org.

For your information:

It is illegal to harm or harass any hawk, eagle, owl, falcon or vulture in America or to possess or hunt them without federal and state-issued permits.

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