By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer
Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas in El Paso unveiled its new eagle flight pen on Tuesday and released two red-tailed hawks back into the wild.
Raptor Rehab cares for injured eagles, hawks, owls and vultures until they are well enough live in the wild. Representatives from the Little Rock Zoo, the Game and Fish Commission and the State Parks were at the unveiling.
Entergy helped Raptor Rehab in building a flight pen for eagles and large raptors last month with an Entergy Environmental Initiative Grant. Entergy provided the facility with $13,000 in support for the project including 26 utility poles.
Funding for the eagle flight-pen project is part of a bird protection plan Entergy is creating to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011.
The pen is 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and 18 feet tall. It can hold up to four eagles at one time. Construction of the pen began in June and was completed last month.
The eagle flight pen is one of three in the state. Other eagle flight pens are in Mena and Decatur. Electric crews put up all the poles in four hours.
Also helping build the pen were five Marines from the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training at Little Rock Air Force Base. The Marines spent three weekends volunteering their time to construct the pen and smaller pens on the property.
The pen was built at the home of Rodney Paul, the founder of Raptor Rehab. Nine other small flight pens are housed on his property.
Raptor Rehab is a volunteer effort funded by Paul and donations. He receives no money from the state or federal governments. Paul does not own the raptors, he is a caretaker. The birds belong to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Paul holds a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for sick and injured raptors. He began Raptor Rehab eight year ago while he was a volunteer with the Little Rock Zoo educational department. Paul estimates he has released 400 raptors back into the wild. This year he has released 90.
Paul worked on navigation and electric systems on corporate jets until he was laid off last year. Now he has more time to care for the injured birds.
Paul said he doesn’t look for injured raptors. The public calls the Game and Fish Commission, and wildlife officers refer the birds to Raptor Rehab. Most of the injured birds are stuck by cars. Four years ago he cared for a bald eagle that was shot.
Paul said he has a 50 percent success rate with releasing birds back into the wild. Raptors unable to live in the wild are used for educational purposes. He takes the birds to schools, churches and youth organizations.
Paul said the educational birds are handled as much as possible, but birds in rehab are rarely touched.
“We don’t want to socialize them in any way,” Paul said.
“Do not touch the birds. They are powerful and dangerous. You can get hurt pretty bad,” Paul said.
Any raptor that dies while in rehabilitation has to be destroyed.
“If you are caught with a feather, it is against the law,” Paul said.
The average stay for a bird in rehab is three months. When the raptors are eating, flying well and healthy enough, Paul lets them go. Bald eagles are released at DeGray Lake and Greers Ferry Lake. Other raptors are released at a nearby landowner’s field.
During Tuesday’s event, two red-tailed hawks were released back into the wild.
“This is great. Rodney just loves it,” Melissa Paul, Rodney’s wife, said.
Entergy communication specialist David Lewis was able to release a hawk back to nature.
“That was fun. I never released a raptor into the wild before. It was quite an experience,” he said.
Paul said he gets “the satisfaction of nursing something back to health from the brink of death into the wild.”
Karen Rowe with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said in 1982, the first pair of bald eagles was seen in the state since the 1950’s.
In 1986, the commission counted 134 bald eagles in the state, now she said there are approximately 3,000 bald eagles living in the state during winter.
Approximately 14 eagles are injured in the state each year.