Raptor Rescue Group Searching For New Home

Jan 25, 2016

Pam Whitacre holds Peabody during a presentation at Sweetwater.
Credit Zach Bernard/WBOI News

The Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rescue has rehabilitated injured birds of prey for 20 years in Northeast Indiana. Their organization and volunteer base has grown over the years, and now they’re searching for a bigger space to call their own.

When you hear the word “raptor,” the first thing that comes to mind might be the vicious dinosaurs from movies like Jurassic Park.

Raptors, by definition, are birds of prey. So, that means hawks, falcons, owls and vultures are all raptors. In Fort Wayne, the Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rescue has been finding and rehabilitating injured raptors in the wild for the past two decades.

Soarin’ Hawk President Dr. Pat Funnell says they rescue up to 130 birds a year, and the rehab process can be lengthy.

“Typically we’ll do x-rays and blood work, see what’s going on and then make a determination where to go from there," said Funnell. "Whether it’s a fractured wing that’ll need surgery on and do pinning, or whether it’s a bird with West Nile; we get a lot of those, and they need intensive care, too.”

Funnell says Soarin’ Hawk has about a 50 percent success rate when it comes to rehabbing and releasing the birds back into the wild. Sometimes, if the bird is too greatly impaired, they’ll continue treating and keeping the bird in captivity.

Take the barred owl named Peabody, for example.

Soarin’ Hawk representatives believe she was struck by a car sometime in 2008, injuring one of her wings and significantly damaging her vision. This affects Peabody’s ability to see much of anything, preventing her from hunting.

Eight years after her rescue, she’s found a second calling as a performer.

Pam Whitacre takes Peabody with her to numerous educational engagements throughout the year, and helps Peabody hoot on command through sound effects. She says Peabody “talks” now more than any other times in the year, largely because it’s breeding season for barred owls.

“Most birds are very quiet during presentations, they don’t vocalize, that type of thing," said Whitacre. "So during presentations, what we have often is we’ll have recordings of these birds that we’ll play for the audience so they know what these birds sound like. So Peabody lately has started to hoot back.”

The organization’s operations are made possible by hundreds of volunteers, whose duties include office work, social media, and assisting rescues in the field.

Having served the Northeast Indiana community for 20 years, the Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rescue is now looking to expand to accommodate their growing volunteer force and carry out their mission even further, beyond their small, private facilities.

“Part of the problem with Soarin’ Hawk is that we’ve done so well and grown so much with our volunteer base that we really have outgrown the private facilities we’re on, so we really need to get our own place so we can do things better than we are doing already,” said Funnell.

The issue? They can’t find a location.

Christopher Guerin spends most of his days as the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Sweetwater, but he also serves on the Soarin’ Hawk board.

He says they’re looking for roughly 20 acres of land, and have begun asking the public for assistance with their ongoing search.

“We need help finding a space. Preferably free and donated, just like people donate to ACRES and to Little Rivers Wetlands," said Guerin. "We’re hoping to find a space of that size that would allow us to fulfill the dreams of the organization.”

Guerin says they organization would like to have a facility that doubles as a tourist attraction and research space where people can learn more about raptors. Funnell adds that she has looked to the Carolina Raptor Center for inspiration, and wants to create something the Midwest has never had before.

“It’s nice to have somebody like that to look up to to build a program instead of trying to do something completely different that’s never been done before," said Funnell. "We know their model works and that’s something we would like to do here.”

Until that day comes, she encourages residents to attend one of their educational seminars. You can find information on those as well as how to report an injured raptor on the organization’s website, soarinhawk.org.

And remember, you’re looking for birds or prey, not velociraptors.