SITKA — On a recent morning, Alaska Raptor Center employees rolled tables down the darkened, windowed (and, to the birds, invisible) hallway between two bald eagle habitats in preparation for their 15th annual solstice banquet, held Nov. 9.
Executive Director Debbie Reeder said the center is still working on figuring out exactly how much they raised, but that the event was a success. About 110 people attended.
“It was a pretty full house, so that was good, and everybody had an awfully good time,” she said.
As private nonprofit that receives no government funding, the fundraiser is very important to the center. So are the center’s 2,700 members.
Right now, the center has 24 “raptors in residence” — birds that, due to permanent injuries or abnormalities, can’t be released. It also has birds in rehab — seven bald eagles, a raven, a western screech owl and a great horned owl. They try to let the birds heal in “as stress-free an environment as we can give them,” Reeder said.
Birds at the center all have different stories. One flew into a power line. Several have been hit by cars. Several have genetic abnormalities that would prevent them from surviving in the wild. One just thinks he’s a person.
The center rehabilitates birds from around Alaska, and sometimes birds found outside Alaska. They’re working on rewriting their education program and increasing community outreach in Sitka.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system used to help with providing free travel to other communities in exchange for educational sessions, but “isn’t interested anymore,” Reeder said.
So here’s a look at some of the Alaska Raptor Center’s birds.
Eagles: Volta, Sitka and Donald
Volta, who’s in his mid-20s, arrived at the center in 1992 after flying into a power line as an adult. Though he’s a little grumpy sometimes, he takes changes in stride and serves as the center’s “ambassador.” He once even rang the closing bell at the New York Stock exchange.
Sitka, with whom he shares an enclosure, is a little bossier — as the female, she takes charge. Volta regularly gets more food than he needs, because handlers know Sitka will steal it.
“Males are more submissive… they’re a little bit more nervous,” Bird Trainer Lacie Penven said.
Donald, not pictured, is an eagle who was found frozen into a lake in Haines two years ago.
“He hadn’t been there a long time, but they’re guessing… he had food. His feathers froze in,” Reeder said. The hikers cut him loose with scissors, falling through the ice in the process, but ended up getting him to safety. His flight feathers have recently regrown, a process that will take about two and a half years to fully cycle through. He recently began flying again.
Some birds — like HALi, named for the Holland America Line, which loaned the Raptor Center the money to buy their 17-acre plot — were found with genetic abnormalities that would have prevented their survival in the wild. HALi has a beak deformity.
If they’re not releasable, the center places birds in zoos or other educational facilities. In the wild, eagles live up to between 30 and 35. In captivity, they can live to more than 50.
Right now, birds that need flight rehabilitation in Juneau are being sent to Sitka, as the Juneau Raptor Center is without a flight mew. (To read more about that, see “Catch-22 for the Juneau Raptor Center” juneauempire.com/outdoors/2013-09-27/catch-22-juneau-raptor-center)
Quigiq, a snowy owl
Snowy owl Quigiq’s name means “white hawk that flies in the sky” in Inuit, Penven said. Quigiq, two and a half years old, was hit by a car in Illinois and severely fractured his left humerus. (Snowy owls migrate. Some fly as far south as Georgia in high stress years, Penven said.)
Quigiq had two surgeries, but his injuries prevent him from being able to fly. They’ve had him at the center for almost a year.
Female snowy owls can grow up to seven pounds. Quigiq is four and a half pounds.
Glaucus, a barred owl
Glaucus was nesting in a tree-cavity in Tennessee when a logger cut the tree down, damaging her wing.
Barred owls used to be uncommon in Alaska but have made an “incredible” westward and northward movement, which some people see as a danger to spotted owls, Penven said.
Kily, a Harlan’s hawk (a subspecies of the red-tailed hawk)
Kily, around 19, is the center’s only physically perfect, flighted bird. He has imprinted on people and has “behavioral abnormalities” that make it impossible to release him. He was found on the ground as a chick by some hikers north of Anchorage. They took him home and tried to raise him.
“Imprinting happens very young, and it’s almost non-correctible,” Penven said. “He either thinks we’re all hawks or he thinks he’s human. We’re not sure.”
The center hired a falconer to train him to hunt. When he was released, however, he was found starving. They got him back into good condition and released him again, but this time he was deemed a public nuisance — he kept dive-bombing people for food. So now he’s at the center to stay.
Tootsie, a northern saw-whet owl
Tootsie came to the center about two years ago, after an unknown collision in Craig. She broke her humerus and is now non-flighted.
“Everything is a predator to her,” Penven said.
Saw-whet owls eat mice. Despite their size, they’re very successful at it, Penven said, killing up to six in a row and caching them for later.
The saw-whet owl is the third smallest species of owl in Alaska. The elf and the pygmy owl are both smaller.