Susan Gibbons 2017-02-03 08:54:07
The Wonder of RAPTORS It’s New Year’s Day and a crowd gathers at the beach in Empire. A chill wind keeps the group of over 400 spectators huddled while they await the release of a rescued bald eagle. Anticipation grows as Rebecca Lessard, founder and Executive Director of Wings of Wonder, talks to the crowd and explains the agenda. She brings out the beautiful bird, allowing the gathering to view the eagle up close while relating information about bald eagles. Before we know it she lifts her arms and releases the majestic bird into the air. The eagle stretches its wings. The crowd can feel its thrill at being airborne once again. The eagle soars away up over the tree line with a final loop back before disappearing from sight. And a new year has begun for all. Wings of Wonder, a non-profit raptor (bird of prey) sanctuary located in Empire, has been active since 1990. Lessard explains that its primary mission is education. She presents more than 150 educational programs that reach over 10,000 people annually throughout Michigan. The presentations are designed to foster appreciation, understanding, and respect for raptors and the important role these birds play in healthy ecosystems. Chris Romeo, a board member at Wings of Wonder, says that one of most impactful moments of participating in a program or attending a release is watching the children. “They are mesmerized,” she smiles. “All one need do is look into the eyes of a raptor to be captivated.” Romeo describes witnessing an eagle release as a life changing event. Wings of Wonder is also licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick, and orphaned raptors with the objective of releasing healthy and fully conditioned raptors back into the wild. This past year Lessard has seen an increase in the number of birds brought to the sanctuary. The day we spoke, Lessard had to make the painful decision to euthanize two bald eagles. One of the birds had been caught in a leg hold trap. Named Newbie (she was found in Newberry), the eagle was approximately three years old, a teenager in the eagle world. The trap severely damaged her back toe—considered extremely important for catching prey, perching, and controlled landings. Lessard relates, “I struggled with the next decision: amputation or euthanasia. Amputation of the toe would mean major surgery, side effects from antibiotics, and months of rehabilitation, and then a life in captivity. Newbie had a calm disposition, she was fully flighted, and was still young…all good things when considering if the bird was right for a life in captivity. The sad truth is that there are currently many non-releasable bald eagles waiting for permanent placement via the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It was an agonizing process but, finally, I decided that the best decision for this beautiful creature was to bless and release her through euthanasia. “At noon today, while she lay on the exam table at the veterinary clinic, she looked directly into my eyes. All I could whisper was ‘I am sorry.’ In my 26 years of working with raptors I have to admit that the decision to euthanize is never easy…the decision is always made after much thought, evaluation, and experience.” In 2016, Lessard announced the plan to move the sanctuary from her private land to create a fully public raptor center. It would be the first dedicated center in the state of Michigan. She hopes to find property in 2017 and begin the design on the infrastructure, but will need the support of the community for this to happen. “With the center we will be able to reach more people and offer more opportunities for volunteers and for education,” notes Lessard. Wings of Wonder offers fun and unique ways to donate. Visit the website www.wingsofwonder. org and click on the Raptors page to view the ambassadors currently in residence. Read their stories and choose a bird to adopt and help support. You will receive an adoption certificate and photos of the bird. Visit the online store for myriad fun gifts like birds of prey tattoos or a stained glass coloring book. Make a donation as a gift or subscribe to a membership by joining the owl clan, vulture varsity, or bald eagle band, among others. Like Wings of Wonder on facebook to keep current on all the news. All support is greatly appreciated. Susan Gibbons has been a Northern Michigan freelance writer since 1999. Susan also owns Sara’s Legacy Pet Sitters, offering professional, loving care in your home. She shares a home with Danni, a 10-year old black lab mix, and Woody, a tuxedo cat. Susan looks forward to attending another eagle release in 2017.
Published by Families First . View All Articles.
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