Soarin’ Hawk to break ground on new raptor rehab center

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Mary Koher, volunteer for Soarin' Hawk, handles a barred owl named Peabody. BRIDGETT HERNANDEZ

FORT WAYNE — Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation Center will start construction on a new facility in Huntertown in March, the nonprofit announced Feb. 26 at Indiana Michigan Power Center.

The nonprofit, which is dedicated to conserving the local raptor population through education and rehabilitation, said a grant from the AEP Foundation will help fund a third of the project. I&M President and Chief Operations Officer Toby Thomas presented the $100,000 check on behalf of the foundation at the Feb. 26 announcement.

“This generous contribution from the AEP Foundation is the final piece of the financing puzzle that will allow us to begin building our long-awaited new ‘nest’ that will provide modern recovery enclosures, a new aviary and a long-needed operations building,” Harry Owen, president of Soarin’ Hawk, said in a prepared statement. “In addition to enhancing our recovery care for raptors, our new home will allow us to greatly expand our educational programs, which already reach about 10,000 students annually.”

Toby Thomas, president of Indiana Michigan Power, poses with Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab volunteers and education birds. I&M presented a $100,000 check to the nonprofit Feb. 26, providing funding to start construction on its new raptor rehab center. BRIDGETT HERNANDEZ

Soarin’ Hawk was established in 1996 to serve northeast Indiana’s injured or orphaned birds of prey.

I&M has a long-standing relationship with the nonprofit. For almost two decades, peregrine falcons have made their homes in a nest high atop the 26-story Indiana Michigan Power Center building. Soarin’ Hawk volunteers assist the Indiana Department of Natural Resources with banding falcon chicks several weeks after they hatch.

“I&M and Soarin’ Hawk have been partners in wildlife conservation for more than a quarter century. Soarin’ Hawk volunteers have provided veterinary services and other care for the multiple generations of peregrine falcons that have bred, hatched and fledged on the roof of Indiana Michigan Power Center,” Thomas said in a prepared statement. “In their new home, Soarin’ Hawk will be able to expand both its wildlife conservation practices as well as the important education they provide.”

Right now, Soarin’ Hawk’s current operation, run by about 200 volunteers, is spread out across Allen County, according to Bob Walton, treasurer for the nonprofit. That includes a medical unit in Huntertown, a rehab center near Leo-Cedarville and volunteers’ homes, Walton said. The new facility will bring everything under one roof.

The nonprofit expects to start construction in March with a ground breaking ceremony at 17688 Lima Road in Huntertown. Site preparation will include restoring a portion of the acreage to prairie, pollinator and riparian habitats.

“We’re taking that old used up farmland and turning it back into what it’s intended to be – an ecosystem where it supports nature and wildlife,” Walton said.

The campus will feature a recovery enclosure and habitats designed to provide a natural setting for raptors while minimizing maintenance.

An aviary will enable volunteers to exercise multiple birds in all weather conditions, which results in the return of birds-of-prey to their natural environment much quicker. Currently, volunteers must use a 100-yard tether to exercise birds. However, new flight enclosures will allow the birds to move with more freedom.

“Here, they’ll be free to fly back and forth, back and forth. (They can) fly when they want to, not at our discretion,” Walton said.

The site will also house an operations building, which will provide climate-controlled space for triage and treatment; a preparation area for raptors’ food; and serve as a base for Soarin’ Hawk’s volunteers.

The project is expected to reach completion by this fall. For more information, visit www.soarinhawk.org.