Thanks to a unique and compassionate partnership between Colorado State’s Rocky Mountain Raptor program and Ocean Journey aquarium, one of the state’s most beautiful birds of prey was returned to its natural habitat yesterday.
A successfully rehabilitated red-tailed hawk, one of Colorado’s native raptors, was released into the Kathy Fromme Prairie conservation area in south Fort Collins. "These birds are such a vitally important natural resource to Colorado," said Judy Scherpelz, Director of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. "It’s always a wonderful experience to be able to return one to its natural habitat."
Because of a fractured wing, the hawk had originally been deemed permanently injured and non-releasable by another rehabilitation center. The hawk, which was thought to be about three years old at the time, was donated to Ocean Journey in September 2001 to be used as part of the aquarium’s "Critters Up Close" educational program. During training sessions, staff at the aquarium began to notice the hawk’s improved strength and ability to fly. In the best interest of the bird, Ocean Journey pursued the possibility that the hawk could be reintroduced into the wild.
They called Dr. Terry Campbell, head of Colorado State University’s Zoological Medicine Services, who also takes care of the veterinary services at Ocean Journey.
"When I examined her, she was in good health and I found that, although the wing was fractured, the injury shouldn’t be permanently disabling," Campbell said. "With a little therapy, and some improvement in her feathers, I determined that she should be able to fly again and be returned to her natural habitat with full capability."
Campbell recommended that she be taken to the Rocky Mountain Raptor program at Colorado State for rehabilitation and monitoring. That was in April of this year.
"We were thrilled with the news," said Kimberley Langston, spokesperson for Ocean Journey. "We felt that if this bird could safely be rehabilitated and then returned to her natural habitat, that would be the best course of action for this animal."
Langston added that the aquarium is still home to another, non-releasable red-tailed hawk who is a feature in their continuing educational program. Ocean Journey incorporates fish, birds and animals into their mission due to the importance of water to the entire ecological "web of life" and food chain.
By the end of September, Scherpelz and Campbell felt the hawk was almost 100 percent healed and ready to go. Her weight was good, about 3.5 pounds, and her instincts were well developed before she was injured. She also seemed to be a strong flyer. They called Ocean Journey and all agreed that Kathy Fromme Prairie in Fort Collins would be a good location for the raptor to winter. The area provides plenty of good habitat and good hunting for native birds.
So yesterday’s crisp, golden October weather served as a perfect backdrop for the sleek-winged return of one of Colorado’s outdoor natives.
For further information about Colorado State University’s Rocky Mountain Raptor Program, visit www.fortnet.org/RMRP. For further information about Colorado’s Ocean Journey, visit www.oceanjourney.org.