|Transport crew member Marla K.|
"When my son attended summer camp at The Raptor Center, campers got to take home a plastic bag full of pellets. Twenty-odd years later I still have it, like every other regurgitation from my two kids’ supremely creative childhoods. Only now I understand how a perfect little rodent skull came to be mixed in with the matted fur.
I had retrieved only one or two ailing birds for the clinic when I got a request to meet Dave in Royalton, Minn., to pick up an owl with a broken wing. The meeting spot was a Dairy Queen on Highway 10. Volunteering on the transport crew, you quickly learn the best parking lots for raptor handoffs. The Coborn’s in Big Lake. The Menards in Rochester. The McStop near St. Augusta. During these handoffs, you also get used to comments like, “It’s missing an eye, but that’s an old injury.”
I had just pulled up to the DQ when a big guy came around the corner and asked, “You looking for a bird?” He led me to a black Ford pickup truck. There in a wire crate stood a small great horned owl, prim and indignant, with a decapitated chipmunk at its feet. The head had been a midnight snack.
Dave needed his crate back, so I knocked on the kitchen door of the DQ to see if they had a cardboard box. (Since then, many a volunteer has opened their trunk and showed me the kind of mess kit I should be traveling with at all times: crate, towels, welding gloves. The latter were especially valuable when transferring a feisty American Kestrel from someone’s dog crate into a box for transport recently.) I ended up delivering the little great horned owl to TRC in a box labeled 5" Plastic Sundae Spoons. Now I keep so many boxes in my car, I look like I work for FedEx.
Mostly you can tell I transport raptors because mine is the car that takes every curve at 15 mph below the speed limit, lest my precious cargo lose their footing. I assume all the importance of an (albeit slow-moving) ambulance, highly conscious of the idea that some of my passengers were once endangered species.
I learned from volunteer coordinator Nancie Klebba that, like me, raptors don’t like pounding rock music, so I have a classical mixtape I play. I play it extra low when I have an owl onboard, having also learned about their hearing superpowers.
Getting a call to transport a raptor to the clinic is one of the greatest privileges of my life. Who wouldn’t give their time so that injured owls can be back in the wild detecting mice skittering beneath a Minnesota night sky? So that eagles can be back spotting their fish prey from dizzying heights? So that peregrine falcons can again be diving at their avian prey at 220 mph?
Even if the patients I deliver ultimately cannot be returned to nature, I know they might live on as education birds at a proper facility where they may someday inspire another young boy, who might in turn pass his love of raptors on to his mother."