Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raptor Rehabilitation Project, UMo Columbia

This post leaves the garden for a field trip to Columbia, Missouri, and a picnic at the Raptor Rehabilitation Project at the University of Missouri's School of Veterinary Medicine. What a grand afternoon!

The picnic and open house was for members of the program and friends who "adopt" a resident bird by donating to its upkeep. I adopted Sir Piginous, the turkey vulture, this summer after becoming fascinated with the species while watching a pair of turkey vultures hatch and raise two chicks in a barn in Marshall, Missouri, just six blocks from our house. The site is on Ustream at Missouri Turkey Vultures, sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project of Decorah, Iowa. Although the chicks have fledged, there is hope that the parents will return to the nest next spring.

The Columbia rehabilitation center is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Its goals are threefold: to rehabilitate injured birds of prey and release them into the wild; to educate the public about raptors and their importance to the environment; and to gain further knowledge about treatment of birds of prey and species behavior.

Birds whose injuries are such that they would not survive in the wild are evaluated for participation in the education outreach program.

Since 1972, the Project has maintained an all-volunteer group of veterinary students, other students, and community members. Financial and technical support comes from the College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Missouri, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and community donations.

The Project is located below the College of Veterinary Medicine complex in a quiet area. Over the years it has grown to include large flight cages and individual mews for resident birds. The large building to the right is the flight cage for large birds, such as eagles and turkey vultures. In this building the birds can exercise to gain wing strength before release.
(Click the photos for a larger image.)

We were privileged to see the release of this little hawk as one of the picnic activities. I'm sorry I don't know which hawk it is. We heard a lot of information, and some it has slipped away! Perhaps someone can tell me so it can be properly identified.

The main purpose of the visit was to see Sir Piginous -- aka Sir P. We were disappointed to see his empty enclosure as we toured the Project. He had broken a bone in one leg some time ago, which was successfully pinned. Recently the pins began to migrate, a natural reaction to the healing, and were removed. He is in the small animal hospital in a holding cage that permits him to move easily but not to hop around or bang the leg while healing continues. It is estimated it will be another few weeks before he is returned to his mews. The good news is, the three of us were permitted to go to the hospital to see him! I didn't take any pictures, as he was not looking his best. This photo was taken from the Project's new brochure. Sir P at his finest.

The next photo is from the Raptor Rehabilitation Project's website. The website says:

The Department of Conservation found the mature Turkey Vulture in Marshall, Missouri on May 26, 2000. Sir P was found to be thin but otherwise healthy with the exception of an old and chronic fracture in the right wing. The fracture could not be repaired, and the vulture was not able to fly. "Sir P" remains at the compound and participates regularly in educational presentations. Sir Piginous's current weight is 1.75kg.

 There is an exercise line on the grounds, where tethered raptors can fly (if they are able) or walk for exercise. One of Sir P's handlers said that he likes to go to the far perch, away from people and buildings, and enjoy the sunshine. I estimate the distance between the perches as about 75-100 feet.

After the hawk was released and disappeared into the woods, seven of the resident birds were brought out for show and tell. The barred owl appeared to be very soft and fluffy.

This is one of the two great horned owls. You could tell they were a bit nervous as the white feathers under the chin did a lot of fluttering. The handlers said they do that when they are warm (a sort of panting) or agitated.

The Harlan's Hawk is the only resident who is not native to Missouri. The Harlans are a subspecies of Red Tailed Hawks. They live much farther north, but come South into this area to breed during the winter. This one was hit by a car and has a badly damaged wing. He took advantage of the breezy afternoon by spreading his wings frequently.

Here are two Red Tailed Hawks. The one on the left is a female and much larger than the male. The staff believe the female may be a cross between a Red Tailed and Harlan's hawk because of her unusual coloration.

Here is a better picture of the female Red Tailed Hawk.

This rumpled pile of feathers is another female Red Tailed Hawk. Her handler said that she looks like this most of the time, with feathers going every which way and tufts of down, normally hidden, poking out between her feathers.

All in all, a delightful afternoon. And the abundant food was good, too. Many thanks to the dedicated volunteers of the Raptor Rehabilitation Project! 

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