Birds of a feather


One of America’s symbols made an appearance at the 18th annual Wings Over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival.

The fastest animal in the world and the most common raptor in North America also were present Saturday during Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge’s largest event of the year.

A bald eagle, a peregrine falcon and a red-tailed hawk were among six feathered friends available for refuge visitors to see up close.

Leslie Grow, an interpretive naturalist at Hardy Lake in Scott County, featured those three animals along with a broad-winged hawk, a red-shouldered hawk and a turkey vulture during the Hawks and Eagles of Indiana program.

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All of them are permanent residents at Hardy Lake’s Dwight R. Chamberlain Raptor Rehabilitation Center, which is the only state-owned raptor rehab hospital in the state. Raptors are birds of prey and include eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.

Grow helps rehabilitate injured raptors.

“It is a really awesome job that I get to do for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources,” she said. “I’m the only person that does that for Indiana DNR.”

She said there are other licensed wildlife rehabilitators around the state, but they are privately owned.

Grow said she is paid by Indiana DNR to teach people about natural resources, but veterinary bills, food and equipment costs for the rehabilitated birds are covered through donations and fundraisers conducted by the nonprofit Friends of Hardy Lake group. The center’s veterinarian is in Franklin.

The rehab center is not open to the public because it serves as a wildlife hospital, and federal and state laws prohibit showing rehabilitating birds to the public, Grow said.

But permits from the federal and state governments allow the facility to work with the birds so they can participate in educational programs. People also can learn about the birds during the annual Hardy Lake Raptor Days festival the last weekend in September.

“We have 11 different species that live with us permanently at our raptor center and about 12 birds,” Grow said. “However, they are not pets, so we don’t try to tame them down to be pets. They are still wild animals. In fact, we don’t give them names. We call them by species names. We want to keep wildlife wild whenever possible.”

Grow first brought out a broad-winged hawk, which is the center’s newest bird. It wound up there after hitting a car and losing its right eye.

While most Indiana raptors stay in the state, she said, this type of hawk nests in the late spring or summertime and then migrates to South America in the fall. During migration, the birds travel about 70 miles per day and typically stay over land.

Next was a red-shouldered hawk, which suffered a traumatic brain injury when it was hit by a car. There aren’t as many of those birds in Indiana as there should be, so that’s why they are listed as a species of concern, Grow said.

The red-shouldered hawk typically is found in a similar habitat as barred Owls, she said. In some instances, they depend on each other when it comes to nesting.

“Barred owls are not nest-building owls. They usually take a nest from someone or take abandoned nests, and in some rare occurrences, they will actually share nests with red-shouldered hawks,” Grow said. “A red-shouldered hawk will do all of the work and build the nest and lay eggs in the nest, and a barred owl will slip in and lay its eggs in the red-shouldered hawk nest.”

The two then share incubating and feeding duties.

“When they hatch, both owl and hawk will feed all of the babies,” Grow said. “They are really in cooperation, so that’s pretty cool. You don’t see that in a lot of other circumstances.”

Grow next talked about a peregrine falcon, which dives for prey at more than 220 mph.

“That’s like NASCAR fast,” she said. “There is no other animal that is even close to comparison.”

At one time, that type of falcon and bald eagles were endangered species in Indiana because of DDT poisoning.

When the chemical was discovered years ago, people thought it was a perfect solution for forests, crops and fields because it killed insects, Grow said. But the chemical wound up having bad effects on animals, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles.

As the chemical entered dirt and groundwater and went into waterways, animals of prey of those two types of birds would ingest it. That would interrupt the birds’ calcium chain and make their eggs fragile, so when the mother or father would sit on the eggs to keep them warm, they would be crushed, and the baby couldn’t survive.

Several years ago, peregrine falcons were reintroduced into Indiana. They prefer high, flat surfaces to nest, so nest boxes were placed on skyscrapers and tall bridges in the state.

“Now, they are doing really well,” Grow said. “They surpassed the numbers that we had hoped after their reintroduction and have been taken off of the endangered species list. There are not a ton of them still. There are only about 20 or so nesting pairs of them in the state, but that has met our goal, so they were able to be taken off of that list.”

Grow said bald eagles are now doing quite well in Indiana, too. Between 1985 and 1989, 73 eaglets were brought to the Monroe Reservoir and raised in a two-story treehouse tower before being released.

It takes about five years for an eagle to become an adult, and when it is ready to have its own family, it builds a nest and lays eggs, Grow said. The eagle will come within 50 to 100 miles of its original nest site to have its own family.

“Before 1984, we had no nesting eagles in Indiana,” Grow said. “Today in Indiana, we have somewhere in the range of 500 to 750 mature eagles. It’s gotten to the point now that they are off of the United States endangered list and off of the state list.”

The red-tailed hawk is the most common raptor in North America and often can be seen sitting on a telephone pole wire or a tree overlooking a field.

Grow said that type of hawk can spot prey a mile away. It also has a couple of “super powers,” being able to hold its head steady when its body is moving and having an extra eyelid to protect its eyeball.

The Hardy Lake center has two red-tailed hawks — the 5-year-old Grow had at Saturday’s program and another one that’s 30 years old. The younger one injured its left wing when it was hit by a train, and the older one got caught up in a barbed-wire fence and lost half of one of its wings.

The other raptor Grow had was a turkey vulture, which eats dead animals. The bird’s left wing was injured when it was hit by a car.

“At the rehab center, he gets all of the leftovers from everyone else,” Grow said. “He’s our recycler. He’s nature’s recycler out there in the wild. They are built for that.”

Turkey vultures have black wings and a red head. Black vultures, which are solid black, mainly used to be found in southern states but have been spotted in Indiana with warmer temperatures. Black vultures are more aggressive and destructive, Grow said.

Ruth Stephens of Freetown and her friends, Sue Bradley and Barbara Matthews, both of Indianapolis, enjoyed Grow’s program.

“She gave a lot of information about what’s unique about (the raptors) and just things that you don’t necessarily know about them, so I really enjoyed it,” Bradley said.

“I really liked how she gave the history of the species in the state and talked about reintroducing the bald eagle to the state,” Matthews said.

Stephens said it was the closest she had ever been to a bald eagle.

“It was amazing,” she said. “You drive and you see them, and they usually take off, and you don’t get to see how pretty they are in the face.”

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