Soarin’ Hawk searches for future home

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Eastern screech-owl Peanut sits on volunteer Mary Koher’s hand.

Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation Center needs to spread its wings as it looks to the future.

The volunteer-run nonprofit was founded in 1996 with about 20 volunteers rescuing about 20 birds, Director of Development Mike Dobbs said.

Last year, the organization, now up to about 200 volunteers, rescued about 220 birds and continues to grow “exponentially,” he said, largely due to more people knowing to bring injured birds to the facility, located a few miles outside Leo-Cedarville.

Because of this growth, Soarin’ Hawk is looking for a new home.

“The facilities were built a long time ago. We’re basically out of room – we’re out of room for the number of birds we take in for rehab, we’re out of room for the number of birds we like to keep here as resident, education birds. And we need better working conditions for the volunteers because (now)…everything we do is outside,” Dobbs said.

The organization rescues, rehabilitates and releases into the wild injured or orphaned birds of prey, Soarin’ Hawk President Pat Funnell said.

Soarin’ Hawk has about 16 birds that cannot be returned to the wild due to permanent injury, she said. Those birds are trained and taken to educate the public about the importance of these animals, whose diet of animals like mice and squirrels help keep those populations in check.

The organization reaches thousands of children, teens and adults a year, Dobbs said in an email, but still more people want to see their operation firsthand. Right now, those people simply can’t.

Dobbs hopes to change that with the move.

Soarin’ Hawk is looking for 10-20 acres in Allen County on which to construct several buildings. A clinic and education building would be used for rehab and to show the public what the organization does. There would also be updated habitats for the owls, hawks and eagles who permanently call Soarin’ Hawk home.

There would also be exercise buildings, which would act as homes for birds being rehabilitated as well as offer more suitable space for free flight exercise. Dobbs said this kind of exercise is important to get the birds back into the wild quickly, but because Soarin’ Hawk is currently all outdoors it makes untethered exercise a challenge.

Dobbs expects the organization will need $350,000-$450,000 to make these dreams a reality. Soarin’ Hawk has already raised about $120,000 toward that goal.

While the new facilities are a goal by December 2018, Soarin’ Hawk is also in need of volunteers now.

Mary Koher has been volunteering with Soarin’ Hawk for a little more than two-and-a-half years, starting with feeding and caring for the birds and moving up to being a rescuer and a handler who gives presentations in the community.

Funnell said Soarin’ Hawk can use people with a variety of skills and interests.

“We use volunteers for everything from behind-the-scenes (such as) grant writers to people who like to do social media that work with our website, that type of thing, to everything else – people to do maintenance, people who actually work with the birds, so if anybody has a skill we can probably use it,” she said.

Those interested in volunteering or donating can visit Soarin’ Hawk’s website at soarinhawk.org.


Protecting birds of prey

Most birds at Soarin’ Hawk are injured by car strikes, President Pat Funnell said. The birds will hunt near roadways, where their prey is easier to find or carrion is present.

Volunteer Mary Koher said people can help these birds of prey by not littering and not using rodenticides or lead shots while hunting, both of which can poison the birds.

If someone finds a raptor, contact Soarin’ Hawk at (260) 241-0134. Funnell said do not try to handle the bird alone.

“The larger birds can be very dangerous, their talons can be very sharp,” she said. “Often we recommend, because we don’t want them to run away, if it’s a wing injury they can still run really fast, often we’ll have them contain them, put a clothes basket over them or something like that, until we come to get it, but picking them up can be very dangerous.”