It often starts with a phone call from a concerned person to Idaho Department of Fish and Game. A large raptor is suffering along the side of the road.
Eagles, hawks and owls are attracted to the roadside. The living can be easy — and dangerous. Fish and Game estimates several are hit each month.
Matt Proett, diversity biologist with Fish and Game, said they have had as many as 20 or more reported in a month. Fish and Game partners with the Teton Raptor Center in Wilson, Wyoming, to nurse the birds back to health and release them back into the wild. As of March 13, the center had taken in 14 birds this year.
“I just picked one up yesterday,” said James Brower, regional communications manager for the Upper Snake Region. “It was another rough-legged hawk in the Rigby area. It looked like it had been hit by a car. It had also been sprayed by a skunk. Insult to injury, absolutely.”
Eagles are attracted by an easy meal of roadkill. Owls and hawks perch on roadside fenceposts or power poles and target rodents bolting across borrow pits or open roads. Then a car comes and hits the distracted bird.
Fish and Game recently released three rehabilitated raptors back into East Idaho wildlife management areas — a bald eagle, a barn owl and a rough-legged hawk.
The bald eagle had recovered from a mild case of lead poisoning.
“The barn owl had some head and eye trauma from a car strike,” Brower said. “The rough-legged hawk had some soft tissue trauma and a sore wing, likely from a vehicle collision.”
You can find a short video of the birds being released at tinyurl.com/pr-raptor.
Fish and Game volunteers and Teton Raptor Center volunteers play the role of bird ambulance, delivering the sick or wounded to the center.
“The bird species vary depending on the season and which ones are migrating through the area,” Brower said. “Right now it’s a lot of rough-legged hawks.”
He said saving the birds is not necessarily a matter of protecting the population, “but there are some birds such as great gray owls and golden eagles that are of great conservation need which puts them higher on the priority list. Their numbers are fairly low. This is one way we can make sure they persist on the landscape.”
Once the ill or injured birds arrive at the Teton Raptor Center, experts swing into action.
“They really have state-of-the-art facilities over at the Teton Raptor Center which is the reason we take all our birds over there,” Brower said. “They have X-ray machines and a top-notch vet that works for them. They are second to none when it comes to rehabin’ these raptors.”
Because of donations, the price is also right.
“They do all of it free of charge for us,” Brower said. “They do all their own fundraising.”
To learn more about the Teton Raptor Center and to donate to the rehabilitation of raptors, go to tetonraptorcenter.org.
Fish and Game offers these tips should you find an injured raptor:
• Give it space. Keep your distance to avoid undue stress.
• Get an accurate location and description of what you have observed.
• Call the nearest Fish and Game office.