|Molly T with young turkey vulture.|
It was a recent warm day, and the
light covering of snow seen in the
photo melted quickly!
I recall three years ago, sitting on my bed in my room when I looked up and saw sparrows scattering away from my feeder outside as a short-winged, long-tailed figure barreled through my yard. I shot off my bed, reaching the window just in time to see an adult female Cooper’s hawk maneuvering masterfully through the woods. I grew up seeing Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and turkey vultures flying around my area, but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to fly birds like these myself.
I first visited TRC when I was 15, and as a bird-crazy teenager, I was fascinated with all of the close-up views I could get of raptors that I normally saw hundreds of feet up in the air. I waited patiently until I was 18, started school at the U of M, and started volunteering on the flight crew at TRC. When I heard that there was an opening in flight, I had no idea what it was. In fact, most people who visit TRC have never heard of the flight crews. Flight crews are an essential group of volunteers who help to rehabilitate injured raptors in the clinic by giving them flight exercise. Flight is absolutely key for the survival of a raptor. Without strong flying-skills, there is no way for a raptor to hunt. In order to exercise the birds, leather straps called jesses are attached to their legs, which are then attached to a parachute rope or a fishing line (depending on the size of the bird).
Each bird is given eight (8) outdoor flights, during which time the crew assesses their flying and records what they observed. This helps the staff in the clinic to determine whether that bird is ready to be released soon or not.
My favorite bird that I have flown so far is an immature turkey vulture. Turkey vultures are big, smelly, ungainly birds, but when they spread out their nearly 6-foot wingspan, there is nothing much cooler!
Because each bird that comes into TRC is important, the work of every volunteer that cares for them on their various crews is a vital part of the bird’s progress toward release. So next time you see a Cooper’s hawk shoot through your yard or a turkey vulture soar overhead, savor the mastery of flight, and then come on over to TRC and get a closer look!