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Birds of prey - up close

September 24, 2018

Oohs and aahs were very audible at Montana Wild Wings’ Birds of Prey Festival at Lone Pine State Park recently.

Several hundred people packed the park grounds and visitor’s center to see more than a dozen species of raptors and owls that volunteers from the Kalispell-based nonprofit had on display.

While moms and dads enjoyed the showcase, it was truly a treat for children, most who had never seen a bird of prey, let alone up close.

“I love it!” exclaimed young Jamison Thramer, who was most taken by a great horned owl named Bentley.

Jamison’s mom, Chelsea, said she randomly saw the event on Facebook and decided to bring her son and his older sister, Addison.

“We live out in West Valley, so we’ve seen owls out there, but having this many birds in one place so that everyone can seem them like this, it’s just wonderful.”

The parade of winged predators included an American kestrel, peregrine falcon and merlin as well as a number of hawks, including ferruginous, red-tailed, rough-legged, Cooper’s, and seven different owls, including saw-whet, snowy, great horned, great gray, barred, long-eared and barn.

The ringleader of the event was Montana Wild Wings founder Beth Watne. Wild Wings is a nonprofit that takes injured birds of prey and rehabilitates them. Some are released back into the wild, while those that can’t be released remain at the center, acting as ‘Education Ambassadors’ that center volunteers utilize to teach people.

Watne has been in the practice of rehabilitating birds since 1983 and she fell into the work quite by accident.

“I got a call about a golden eagle that a man in Libby had. The bird had been taken from its nest, back then you could still do things like that, and it needed some help.

“I was raising migratory waterfowl at the time so I had a permit so I could take the bird. That’s how it all got started.”

Montana Wild Wings has since grown to three buildings that Watne’s husband, Bob, built and there are plans for a fourth.

“We’ve had 18 eagles here this year and we need more space,” Watne said. “We have 40-foot flyways, which isn’t much room for an eagle to fly. With a bigger building, we are planning on 100-foot flyways which would decrease the amount of time it would take to rehab them.”

Watne said they have the materials and the shell of the building is up.

“But we need someone that is able to build metal buildings,” Watne said. “It’d be nice to have it done before winter sets in.”

Watne said about 90 percent of the birds that come to Wild Wings are involved in vehicle collisions. Some are also the victims of gun shots, some have lead poisoning, some fly into barbed wire fences and others are inadvertently poisoned.

Wild Wings is entirely funded by donations. They don’t receive money from any government agency. Their primary mission is rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing as many sick and injured birds of prey as possible.

“Our biggest expense is getting 50 pounds of mice every week to feed the birds. It’s $404 each week to feed them,” Watne said.

Wild Wings is active in the area, visiting schools, kids’ camps, senior centers and others to put on programs such as they did at Lone Pine.

For more information about Wild Wings, see its Facebook page or its home page at https://www.wildwingsrecovery.org. They are open to public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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