FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — The Soarin’ Hawk raptor rehabilitation program hopes a change of roost will help it care for more birds and also become a destination for raptor education and conservation.
Founded in 1996, Soarin’ Hawk currently operates on a board member’s private property in northern Allen County. That location was supposed to be temporary, but the nonprofit group has been there eight years and has outgrown the site.
The all-volunteer organization now hopes someone will donate about 20 acres to it, or will sell it the land at a low price, said Christopher Guerin, a member of Soarin’ Hawk’s board of directors. The land will allow the organization to rehabilitate more birds of prey and to provide educational experiences for people interested in seeing and learning about the birds.
A state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Soarin’ Hawk works to save the area’s injured, ill or orphaned raptors by helping them heal and then returning them to the wild. The group also tries to help protect raptors by educating the public about them.
Its 100 volunteers currently rescue about 150 birds a year from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, and they return about 50 percent back to the wild, Guerin said.
The group’s crowded quarters include two crudely built structures, each consisting of a series of pens for birds of prey undergoing rehabilitation and for birds being used for educational purposes because their injuries prevent them from surviving in the wild, Guerin said.
Soarin’ Hawk can’t invite the public onto the property, however, so all educational programs must be done off-site, he said.
With a new, larger plot of land, Soarin’ Hawk could build a new raptor center containing space for classrooms, a large auditorium for presentations and a hospital area for sick or injured raptors, he said. Local veterinarian Dr. Pat Funnell, Soarin’ Hawk’s current board president, treats all of the birds they receive.
Soarin’ Hawk also could invite the public to see educational and display birds, which could be sheltered in natural-looking exhibits along a walking trail, Guerin said.
“We would like to create the equivalent of a bird zoo on our premises,” he added.
The opportunity to see birds such as a bald eagle, owls and hawks, along with attending educational programs, would make Soarin’ Hawk a significant tourist and learning attraction, Guerin added.
At the new location, Soarin’ Hawk also wants to install several enclosed flight pens measuring about 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 25 feet tall.
Recovering birds would be coaxed to fly from one perch to another inside a flight pen to help rebuild their wing strength, Guerin said. Use of flight pens would allow birds to rehab more quickly by flying more frequently, and it would take fewer volunteers to do it.
Currently, to let a bird practice flying, volunteers have to tie a tether line up to 300 feet long to the bird’s foot and then let it take off. It takes three volunteers — one to toss the bird into the air, one to spot where it is going and a third to apply the brakes, when needed, on the tether line.
Soarin’ Hawk’s new site plan is modeled on the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., which is a popular tourist destination along with providing regional care for injured raptors, Guerin said.
Soarin’ Hawk still is tabulating the potential cost for turning its plans into reality, Guerin said. Initially, however, he said volunteers could operate easily out of trailers and a pole barn while they raise money for a main building.
Volunteers would like the new site to be in Allen County, though, because they all live in Fort Wayne, he said.
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