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Raptor Rescue

Wendie Henderson of Alliance holds an ill or injured golden eagle while Marina McCreary of Chadron feeds the bird via dropper. The women are volunteers for Fontanelle Forest Raptor Rescue, a Bellevue, Nebraska, facility that rehabilitates injured or sick raptors. Volunteers play an integral role in recovering and transporting injured birds, allowing Fontanelle to service the entirety of the state.

Here at the Record, we’re committing to making it easy to identify opportunities for giving this holiday season. You can follow our #BeTheDifference campaign across our social media platforms, stop by the Dawes County Courthouse and check out our entry to the Festival of Trees featuring several local non-profit organizations to give to, or stop by our office where we can provide you with a list of great organizations that would love your gift.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a little story of some recent volunteer experience of my own.

My lovely girlfriend Marina McCreary and I moved to Chadron in August so that she could once again attend college in pursuit of a new career path. Although a former music major at Nebraska Wesleyan (and an amazing singer I might add) the career options afforded to her had lost their luster.

Such is life, and as luck would have it, a chance volunteer opportunity assisting with bird-banding for the Rocky Mountain Bird Conservancy provided the inspiration for the change in her life’s journey.

We both love the outdoors, and I could tell how seriously she was taking her new pursuit by her willingness to begin networking and getting into the world of conservancy and wildlife management through volunteering.

Late one night in August she discovered an opportunity to attend training for the Fontanelle Forest Raptor Rescue. The gig was the chance to be part of a group of transportation volunteers who are tasked with retrieving or receiving injured raptors locally, and transporting them through the chain of other volunteers in order to deliver them to Fontanelle Raptor Recovery in Bellevue, Nebraska, where the birds are treated and rehabilitated with the goal of being released back into the bird’s local area.

The orientation was the next morning, and in North Platte, but we’re not too bothered by spontaneity, and anyway, neither of us had jobs and the school-year had yet to start. Plus, I was excited to join in on this opportunity because, well, raptors are pretty amazing.

The orientation helped us to get outfitted with a small collection of needed tools like first-aid wrap, and gloves suitable to handling raptors. We were given some training in how to assess the extent of injury, how to bandage broken wings and splint broken legs, and how to determine and treat malnourishment. I was a bit surprised at the brief nature of the bird-care training, but it was fairly apparent our main focus would be to collect information regarding how the bird was found and its condition, and then get the bird to the professionals as quickly as possible.

Any available treatment we could give it on its way was just a bonus, but it was easy to see that most of the other volunteers were well-versed in assessing condition and providing interim care.

Fast forward to Dec. 3, when we finally got our first call to action. Coincidentally just two days prior Fontanelle had released a rehabbed golden eagle back to its native Montz Point Ranch near Lyman. It’s believed that bird was bit by a snake, but thankfully made a full recovery.

I was excited to finally get the opportunity to help out, and Marina had been carrying her gear in her car for just such an occasion. I’d been picturing us getting our initiation with a downed hawk or owl, having a chance to work on our bird handling skills before graduating to the big leagues, but that wasn’t going to be the case.

Our first time out was going to be retrieving an injured golden eagle from a ranch north of Crawford. A very big golden eagle.

To our benefit, the eagle had been recovered by the property owners, and we’d be limited to loading the bird up and heading down to Alliance where Wendie Henderson, a much more experienced volunteer would take the bird from there. I was relieved not to be attempting to handle a ticked off eagle, but dismayed the bird was in such bad shape that it showed no fight or temper at all.

We got the bird down to Alliance, where we were able to witness a little bit of basic treatment and handling, and Henderson took it from there.

In the moment I pretty much only felt excitement. When you’re a young boy growing up, these types of birds seem pretty extraordinary, but having the opportunity to be up close and personal with one is a little awe-inspiring. You get a sense of their majesty and immediately understand why there are folks so dedicated to their well-being and survival.

Even playing such a small role as we did felt like an accomplishment, like we spent what would have otherwise been an idle Sunday in pursuit of leaving our world just a little bit better than we had found it. I was happy to have been able to have spent my time in the service of helping the eagle, but that feeling of accomplishment was as much a gift given to ourselves as it was a gift to the bird.

To me, that’s really what volunteering, donating, and our #BeTheDifference holiday campaign is all about. At our best, we desire to be selfless toward our community and toward others, but in giving our resources or our time, we also give to ourselves a gift that not only enriches our lives, but also has positive, tangible, effects on our physical and mental health. When we give our time to help others, or help our environment, or just to do good, everyone benefits.

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