Giving Birds a Fighting Chance

Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation, a group that aids injured birds of prey, is looking to purchase a new location.

Several years ago, Christopher and Ruth Guerin attended a presentation about birds of prey.

Today, they have a screech owl in their basement. It’s the fourth they’ve taken care of in the past year as volunteers with Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation.

“They’re all beautiful and fascinating. Ruth cleans their cage and feeds them, and in the evening she holds the bird on her glove for an hour or so, while we watch TV,” explains Christopher. “The purpose is to help with the bird’s recuperation and to ‘socialize’ them. Every bird is different. The first two, both gray, were very sweet-tempered. We called them Ziggy and Linus. Keeping with the Peanuts cartoon theme, we called the third one Lucy because she was feisty. We’re still getting to know our newest boarder, so we haven’t chosen a name yet. It’s a remarkable experience to go into your basement and have an owl hoot at you, or snap their beak.”

Soarin’ Hawk was founded more than 20 years ago at the home of a local veterinarian who took in about two dozen birds a year. The hawks, owls, falcons and eagles had been injured and most likely wouldn’t have survived in the wild.

“One of the biggest dangers to raptors is being hit by cars. They are hunting from trees or wires by the side of the road, so they get hit when they attempt to grab their prey,” Christopher says.

“They come to us to be treated. Sometimes it’s a day or two, sometimes it’s weeks or months.”

What started as a passion for a handful of people, is now a well-run agency that boasts more than 100 volunteers who take care of about 225 birds a year. Most of those raptors have been rescued, rehabilitated and returned back to the wild. Occasionally a bird is too injured, so it becomes part of an education team that lives on-site.

Jefferson is one of about 17 such birds who are an important part of programs that help educate the public. The bald eagle was found in downtown Wabash the day after Christmas in 2011. He had been shocked by an electric wire and fell to the ground, causing a severe elbow injury. Because of that, he cannot be released back into the wild.

“We have added pens over the years,” says Christopher. “But we have run out of room. We need a better atmosphere for animals and the volunteers. We’ve grown so much because we’ve become the regional resource for injured birds, bringing in raptors from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.”

As a result, Soarin’ Hawk needs to find a new location; one better suited to meet the needs of so many birds, both those who are there temporarily and those who live there full time.

“A new campus would double the number of injured raptors who can be treated as well as expand housing for non-releasable raptors who need a forever home,” says Michael Dobbs, the vice president of Soarin’ Hawk. “We have a crew of three to five volunteers that feeds and cleans every raptor in our care, every day, 365 days a year, regardless of the weather.”

Like the Guerins, Dobbs became hooked after one encounter. “On a bitterly cold Sunday in 2011, the morning paper had a notice that Soarin’ Hawk would have a bald eagle at Metea Park that morning. That experience hooked me, and I have been involved ever since,” recalls Dobbs.

Now, Dobbs leads the development team in the search for a better home. “The new campus will cost about $330,000. The largest challenge is the cost of land in Allen County. We have had to walk away from several great sites because of cost. Because of the high number of raptors that we treat and rehabilitate, we need three to five acres of land. A wooded or partially wooded site would be ideal for the raptors,” Dobbs says.

Soarin’ Hawk is funded by a grant from the Community Foundation, along with private donations and money raised at an annual event. That covers most of the annual operating costs, but a new location will require more.

“Today, we have commitments that cover about half of overall cost,” Dobbs says. “Our volunteers will provide a lot of the labor, but we need help from local builders and contractors to make the Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Center campus a reality.”


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