Free Flight

Working closely with the permanent residents at Rehabilitation Center that are entrusted to me has allowed special relationships to emerge with some of these amazing raptors. For these particular birds, my caretaking duties go beyond feeding and cleaning; they enter the avian world of amorous antics.

Gavilan – Mississippi Kite
Gavilan and Miki arrived here as fledglings in August of 2001. These Mississippi Kites had been knocked from nests and handraised at another rehab facility and so were fairly tame, especially Gavilan. They would come to my hand for cups of mealworms, and we used them in educational programs. As they matured, Gavilan began to exhibit conflicting behaviors. He would readily come for food, but when I was in the cage to change the water pan, he would start at one end of the cage, smack me on the head as he went by, then turn around and smack my head again! Since Gavilan and Miki were companionable, I attributed his ornery ways to a type of rivalry. But he was always ready to meet the public, and liked to show off his beautiful plumage. When Miki died three years ago, Gavilan was lonesome; Kites are very social. He has become closer to me , and the bond of trust is as strong as ever. Gavilan is now 15 years old.

Squirtsy – Turkey Vulture
This young Turkey Vulture arrived in 2008 as a chick. She sported a big, white, fluffy body with a black head sticking out of it. We fostered her to a pair of vultures at a nature center. When she came back 10 days later a bloody mess, we learned that there was also a tom turkey in the enclosure. He probably cornered the defenseless chick and plucked all of the primary feathers out on both wings, leaving bloody scabs behind. The chick was nasty, and in pain. Over the course of treating it, the kid decided I was Mom. I called it all kinds of names, but Squirtsy stuck. Unfortunately, the damage to the feather follicles was permanent; primaries grow in, but fall out prematurely. Squirtsy has a playful side; she will chase me around her pen until I turn around and chase her. She sidles up, calling in a low growl, and the game is on. Not being a true imprint, Squirtsy considered me more of a crony than a mate. Squirtsy spends the winter indoors in Acclimation, and goes outdoors in the spring. She loves to do the sun salutations; other vultures frequently fly over to greet her.

Moopitz – Eurasian Eagle Owl
Moopitz is a Eurasian Eagle Owl, the largest owl species in the world. She is on loan to us from SIA, the Comanche Ethno-ornithological Iniative. Her name means “Boogeyman” in Comanche. One look at her glowing orange eyes and tremendous size give credence to the name! Moopitz’s purpose here is to serve as a foster mother to some of the many Great Horned Owl chicks we receive annually. She is a close cousin to them, and her appearance is similar enough for the babies to imprint to her and not people.

When Moopitz arrived here in Nov. of 2013, she was nine years old , a human imprint, and had successfully fostered babies before. The first winter here was a trying time for her, and an uneasy one for me. She had to habituate to a new place and a new mate-me. Not only were her huge size, glowing eyes, and Amazon feet intimidating; her penchant for coming at me while I was outside the cage was not reassuring. By the time spring arrived, Moopitz wanted to lay eggs; she had to accept me as her mate. Whew!

Her first season here as a foster mama went well. She raised a succession of nine Great Horned Owl babes without incident. Season two was a different story; she laid late, and was only two weeks into incubation when the first babes arrived. She ignored them for the most part, focusing on her eggs (timing is everything). I finally removed her eggs, hoping she would pay attention to the babes. No- she laid more eggs!

We come to season three now. One good sign was that she laid earlier in March, and was three weeks into incubation when the first tiny chick arrived. She accepted it and brooded it along with her eggs. When the second little fluffball arrived, I removed her eggs . She fed the babes well, and is determined to protect her babes during tours here. The fierce glare of those orange eyes have impressed all of the visitors!

Winslow – Eastern Screech Owl
The little Screech Owl was found in Winslow, NE, apparently fallen from a nest tree. The bird had a suspicious mark around the left leg, like a string had been tied to it, and the chick acted tame. Over the course of a month, three of the four toes turned black and fell off. This left Winslow with one good toe on that foot, precluding its release.

Screech owls usually mature in a year, breeding by their first birthday. We didn’t know what sex Winslow was, and received no clue from the bird. Year one rolled around; there was a lot of calling, but no behaviors that would clue us in to the bird’s gender. No eggs ensued, therefore it is male. Spring of 2016 rolled around; more calling, but still no behavioral clues as to gender. Then I found an egg on the floor. Mystery solved! She laid three more eggs, none in the nest box, and is done for the season. But she should be primed to become a foster mama next season.

Luna – Barred Owl
Luna the Barred Owl arrived in the spring of 2004, badly injured by a tornado that ripped through the town of Nehawka, killing one of her parents and a sibling. The wing fracture she suffered was complicated and did not heal well enough for her to go free. I always suspected the bird was female, but it wasn’t confirmed until Moopitz came to stay. Their cages are adjacent, and Moopitz is very vocal. I noticed Luna was more vocal that spring (2014), and spending a lot of time in her roost box. Sure enough, she had laid eggs. I carefully handed mice to her in her box, being wary of her propensity to to attack my face if I got too close. Egg-laying prepares the owls to receive foster babes; sadly , we did not receive any chicks that year for her to raise. The following year, we did get a fledgling Barred Owl for her; it sat with her, but no feeding took placethe kid could feed himself. But it was a start.

Spring of 2016 started out the same way; but Luna was more accepting of me handing her mice directly to her in her box, and softly called to me. I was a poor substitute for a mate, I’m sure, but I was all she had. By April, Moopitz next door already had several foster babes, and Luna had broken her eggs and left the nest box- another failed year. Then, we got in a small Barred chick, and a few days later, another smaller one. I put them in the nest box with some extra mice, and waited. By the second day, Luna was in the box with the babes, demanding food! Luna had finally fulfilled her destiny and became a wonderful parent. A third chick joined the family ten days later. All babes fledged in her pen, and were released back with wild adults. Luna did her job; the babes were wild to humans, as they should be.

– Betsy Finch, Manager of Raptor Rehabilitation

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