If there is a key message Vickie Orr and Blake Hatfield want to get across, it is don’t shoot the Red Tail.
Orr and Hatfield were in Broken Bow at the Farmers’ Market last Thursday with a few of their friends: a Barn Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Swainson’s Hawk, Great Horned owl and a Burrowing Owl.
The birds displayed during the program were rescued following a life-threatening injury and because of these injuries could not be released into the wild.
“When you’re out hunting and if you go to cross the field, you’re scaring up the snakes, rabbits and frogs that the Red-Tailed Hawks are after,” explained Orr.
The 7-year-old Barn Owl she was holding at the time eats five mice a night, she said, and adding that was a pretty good thing.
The Red-Tailed Hawk displayed by Hatfield was around 16 years old. The Hawk was sent to Raptor Recovery of Nebraska following a gun shot wound.
“The vet tried to pin the wing, but she still couldn’t fly,” said Orr.
Orr and Hatfield spend hours during the summer months doing just what they were doing in Broken Bow, showing off the birds and answering questions.
“This is very, very important to us,” she said, and then explained how they became interested in the organization.
“We had been volunteering at a Nature Center in Alda and when we went to check on the Blue Bird houses we found an injured eagle. That was in 1998, and they have been involved with Raptor Recovery of Nebraska ever since.
The number one question children seem to always ask, is ‘may I pet the bird.’ and the answer is always the same, ‘no, afraid not.’
By definition, a raptor is a bird of prey. These are very powerful creatures.
The hardest thing to learn was how to control the birds so that no one, including the birds, get hurt.
“The eagles are really hard because they can hurt you so fast,” she said.
The main recovery center in in Dannebrog. In 2002 they had a Great Horned Owl that had West Nile. They did everything they could do to help the bird recover. It took two years, but the bird recovered.
When Hatfield was asked what he enjoyed the most about working with the birds, he smiled and quickly answered that it was their smartness. “I never know how smart birds could be until I started working with them,” he said.
It was hardest for him to learn to move slowly and to be patient.
“Birds have fast vision. Humans see 20 images per second and Falcons see 70 per second. If you move too fast they will react, and you’re going to get hurt,” he said.
The mission of Raptor Recovery Nebraska, Inc. is to provide care and support for injured and orphaned raptors in preparation of release.
The organization keeps track of a statewide network of volunteers who pick up injured or orphaned raptors and releases those it can successfully rehabilitate.
The organization is also involved in educational programs such as the one offered at the Farmers’ Market last Thursday.
Founded in 1976, RRN has rescued and treated over 8,000 raptors from across the state.
Raptor Recovery nursed 450 birds of prey last year, and of these, 31 were held over from 2009, 23 were released back into the wild, and 45 were held over into 2011.