EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Most people don’t have the slightest idea what to do when they see an injured, sick or orphaned raptor — a predatory bird such as an owl, eagle, hawk, falcon or vulture.
“They’ll get online and google, ‘injured wildlife’ or something like that. They’ll call a friend, and then they call Wesselman Nature Center, which doesn’t rehabilitate, and then they call Animal Control, and then, you know, they call the zoo,” said wildlife rehabilitator Lauren Norvell, who runs non-profit The Talon Trust from her property in western Vanderburgh County.
But if the question is “who you gonna call” to rehabilitate that hawk you found with a broken wing, the answer is Norvell’s native raptor rescue and rehab operation. The Talon Trust is the only permitted rehabilitator of the creatures in Vanderburgh, Posey, Warrick or Gibson counties, according to a public list maintained by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The organization is not licensed by the state to rehabilitate songbirds such as robins or blue jays, or waterfowl such as geese and ducks.
The Talon Trust is backed by about 15 volunteers who attend training courses. There’s also logistical support from Norvell’s husband, Andy.
Lauren Norvell, a teacher of advanced environmental science and biology at Wood Memorial High School in Gibson County, holds a masters degree in conservation biology and wildlife science. She is a former environmental educator and resource manager for Wesselman Nature Society.
Those qualifications are more than enough for Indiana Conservation Officer Gordon Wood, who put out an urgent call for help to The Talon Trust as Norvell was talking to the Courier & Press at her home.
The crisis briefly commanded Lauren and Andy Norvell’s full attention until it was resolved when a volunteer stepped up to go meet Wood on a moment’s notice — something volunteers understand they may be called upon to do.
A woman in Santa Claus, Indiana, had found a tiny young raptor — Wood thought it might be a cooper’s hawk or red-shouldered hawk — that had fallen out of a nest. The creature didn’t appear to be injured, Wood told Lauren Norvell, but being small and stranded on the ground made it an easy target for predators.
Wood got the little bird out of danger, but he couldn’t drive around with it all day. Could Norvell send a volunteer to meet him in Boonville to collect the creature, the officer wondered?
As Andy Norvell speed-dialed volunteers hoping to find one willing, able and close enough to make the rendezvous, Wood explained what having The Talon Trust available means for wildlife care and preservation in Southwest Indiana.
“They’re very handy when we have injured hawks and owls, and this one here is just very, very, very small,” the conservation officer said. “They are very handy to have because, if not, then (for injured raptors) nature’s just going to take its course. It’s just going to die, probably.”
The most frequent cause of injury to raptors is collisions with vehicles and windows, Norvell said.
“Windows would be birds like cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks or red-shouldered hawks that are hunting around buildings. They’re more of urban birds and they hunt near bird feeders and such, so they easily run into those buildings near the bird feeders. They’re in hot pursuit after a flying bird and they’re not paying attention to the big window in front of them,” she said.
Vehicles are a constant danger for the larger owl or hawk.
“They’re hunting for the furry things, and the furry things eat grasses and seeds that are found in meadows or other kinds of mode areas along roadways,” Norvell said. “A lot of ‘sit and wait’ predators are sitting there waiting for the mice and rabbits to move around. They often have to cross roads — and they cross without looking because they’re focused on the moving target of their food.”
Electrocutions and collisions with power lines and transformers, lead poisoning, mouse poisoning and gunshot wounds also bring in calls for help. The Talon Trust doesn’t have to solicit or advertise for raptors in distress.
Except in cases of immediate life-or-death danger, Norvell advises anyone who finds an injured raptor to confer with a rehabilitator before collecting the creature and setting off in search of help. There may be a legitimate reason for a young bird, for example, to be on the ground — especially in the spring, when they’re learning to fly and hunt.
About 60 percent of The Talon Trust’s raptors ultimately are released back into the wild — but some are drafted into “ambassador” status, meaning they accompany Norvell and her volunteers to schools, scout meetings and other places for educational presentations. The reason: The creatures suffered injuries making them unable to fly or otherwise fend for themselves in the wild.
The Talon Trust has 10 such “resident raptors” who live on Norvell’s property — some of whom, like an owl called Hoot, have big personalities. Hoot suffered a congenital defect that left him without one fully formed foot — Norvell called it “a partial leg” — and no chance of ever hunting for his own food.
“He’s kind of like a teenager. He’s very rowdy, sassy. He gets into trouble,” Norvell said, adding that the owl is at heart “a sweet boy.”
The Talon Trust runs primarily on donations and grants, with the Norvells kicking in some of their own money, Lauren Norvell said. Just feeding the resident raptors and wild patients — they eat farm-raised mice or chicks — costs $10-$15 a day.
This isn’t a full-time job, after all. There are no public facility costs.
“Most wildlife rehabilitators work off their own property, out of their own home,” Norvell said. “There’s no fee given by the taxpayers for wildlife rehabilitation.
“No one one pays you to do this.”
Source: Evansville Courier and Press, http://bit.ly/2uNgpzR
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the Evansville Courier and Press.