Chocolay Raptor Center educates, entertains

HARVEY – Raptors, or birds of prey, have an important ecological niche. On top of the food chain, they keep the populations of prey like mice in check. It would be a pretty rodent-infested world without them.

How raptors fit into the natural world is one of the messages Jerry Maynard, president of the Chocolay Raptor Center, wants to convey.

Maynard held a special gathering Wednesday at the raptor center, located at his home at 146 Lakewood Lane, to talk about the facility. With support from the Wisconsin Energy Foundation and the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club as well as many volunteers, his rustic backyard is home to a new wooden containment area that can house up to four birds of prey that need to be rehabilitated or can no longer live in the world (or if they did, they wouldn’t survive for long).

Maynard holds federal and state permits for wildlife rehabilitation. This allows him to keep injured raptors like hawks and owls until they are well enough to be released back into the wild – or, as it sometimes happens, euthanized.

Some birds, though, wouldn’t make it hunting on their own anymore because of an injury, but they are healthy enough to be able to live a comfortable existence in the center.

One of those birds is Phoenix, which Maynard said was the first peregrine falcon hatched in Marquette since the 1950s. Phoenix was born at the We Energies plant in May 2011, a fact known because the bird was banded (it even came with the name Phoenix).

Phoenix, which has a damaged eye that keeps him from being an effective predator in the wild, was rescued in 2012 and now has a permanent home at the raptor center as an “educational bird.”

This means the falcon will travel with Maynard and be shown at various programs to educate people about birds of prey.

And Phoenix appears to be a good choice.

“Once he gets on the glove, he’s great,” Maynard said. “The fact he’s preening and rousing in front of all these people means he’s relaxed.”

That’s probably a good thing. With their sharp beaks and strong talons, an agitated predator isn’t the best creature to have around a group of people.

Maynard said about 30 birds have been at the center, with some released or sent to other facilities. The raptor center also includes an indoor infirmary.

“Others died, or we had to euthanize because their injuries were too bad,” he said.

That’s one of the bad parts about rehab work: some animals make it, some don’t (one recent casualty was an Eastern screen owl).

Two other birds, Sage the great horned owl and an as-yet-to-be-named red-tailed hawk, also have injuries too severe for release into the wild. These educational birds, according to Maynard, can be used to show the role raptors have in the environment, and how pesticides almost wiped out eagles and falcons.

(The ban on the use of DDT played a big part in the comeback of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. The pesticide made its way into the eggs of the young, making the shells too thin to hatch.)

Bob Jensen, raptor center vice president, said the red-tailed hawk has an injured wing, with a feather that’s irritating the wound scheduled to be removed.

Red-tailed hawks made good educational birds, he said, because they do well around people. The center’s new hawk appears to be no exception.

“He’s very well-mannered,” Jensen said. “He’s terrific. He’s calm on the glove.”

Working with raptors has its challenges, as Maynard pointed out he has to get them to accept and trust him.

“That just takes time,” he said.

The learning curve also includes continued education. The two men earlier this month completed a Care and Management of Captive Raptors workshop in St. Paul, Minn., where Maynard twice got to hold a bald eagle.

It also helps the center has supporters like veterinarians Jean Wilcox and Krissy Palo of the Gwinn-Sawyer Vet Clinic. Wilcox used to volunteer with raptors at Michigan State University, and now that she’s based in the area, she’s realized that aren’t many raptor rehabbers nearby.

Her clinic provides medical treatment for the center’s birds of prey, which are sent back to the center.

“People, you know, like this take over the rehabbing, making sure they can fly and hunt on their own,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox believes the facility provides another needed service to the public.

“It’s important to teach people about these birds and not to hurt them, and how to get them in the wild again,” she said.

The raptor center, Maynard said, is a 501(c)(3) organization and accepts donations (fundraising is another challenge, he noted). To report an injured bird or for more information, call 906-249-3598, email or visit the center’s Facebook page.

After all, it could be gratifying to read Facebook posts such as the one dealing with the Sept. 2 release of a broad-winged hawk. After spending time at the center due to a broken bone in its right wing, the hawk was released, soaring 40 feet or so up in the air, flying across a clearing and into the woods – where it belongs.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.