I don’t know when I saw my first raptor– surely a long time before I knew the word “raptor.” But I’m certain the occasion was at my Grandmother’s house in Red Canyon, and doubtless the raptor was a hawk– probably a red-tailed hawk– that sailed over her chickens, serenely eyeing them. I’m sure my grandmother wanted to swear, but did not, in front of the child of six at her side.
And I’m not sure how long it was before I came to respect and love the raptors of the prairie. At first my sympathies were probably with the rabbits and chickens, but once I saw my first golden eagle sailing over the east pasture, I was hooked on these majestic birds. Not long after that I began to notice that great horned owls frequented the juniper trees around our house, and to admire the ghostly way they sailed out of view when we came near.
After that, I watched for them, watched the way the hawks and owls hunted quietly but surely throughout our pastures and even near the house–reducing the population of rabbits that gobbled my garden. I might briefly sympathize when a mouse flew past in the talons of a hawk, but my sympathy vanished when I found the feed sacks gnawed open in the barn.
The Black Hills Raptor Center has a three-fold mission:
- Educate people about the natural world, using birds of prey as the “hook” to get them excited to learn more. This they do presently.
- Rehabilitate injured raptors, returning them to live out their lives as wild animals and take their necessary place in the food chain. This is a future goal.
- Participate in research endeavors that help to expand the scientific understanding of the role of raptors in the environment. This is a future goal.
The Black Hills Raptor Center made it possible for me to see these magnificent birds up close– to look into the eyes of Elise the Red-tailed Hawk, who is now an incredible 30 years old, an age she never would have achieved in the wild. To see that stance, to look at that curved beak, is to see perfection of the raptor sort.
And one day, as I walked under a dead tree in the yard of my retreat house, I looked up and saw the great horned owl I’d heard hooting in the darkness, and whose descendant was calling across the prairie as I drifted into sleep last night.
Gradually I came to recognize others in the raptor family, like the kestrels who ziiiing! across the highway to grab a mouse in the borrow pit.
The Black Hills Raptor Center, a non-profit organization, has just issued its ten year anniversary annual report, showing that its small group of dedicated volunteers provided a thousand educational programs between 2010 and 2019. Volunteers take one or more raptors to visit preschool through college, to community groups, and to gatherings at Mt. Rushmore, other national parks, Custer State Park, conservation camps, outdoor expos, sports shows, and others.
To watch a small child gaze up at Elise for a first glimpse of the wild majesty of hawks is to see awe bloom.
Through the dedicated work of volunteers, the organization has bought and paid for the property on which additional facilities will be built. Injured birds brought to the center now must be driven by volunteers to clinics with complete facilities. Donations are needed now for rehab pods and residences for the raptors, an office, vet clinic, ICU, aviaries, flight rooms, and a public education center.
Join me in helping to support these magnificent residents of our grasslands.
I love the names given to the divisions of support: Bald Eagles have given $75,000 to $125,000. More modest levels exist: for $100 to $499, you can become an American kestrel! Or contribute to become a Short-eared owl, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Snowy owl, or a Gyrfalcon.
Whatever you can contribute, do it: Black Hills Raptor Center, Box 9713, Rapid City, SD 57709.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2020, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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