By Al Pefley email
West Palm Beach, FL (WFLX)
A south Florida wildlife center that's about to close says goodbye to a few of its feathered friends. Virginia Bowen with the Folke Peterson Wildlife Center has been through this many times, releasing injured or orphaned birds and animals.
She's raised these red-shouldered hawks since they were just babies. Now she's ready to turn them loose, returning them to the wild where hawks like these are meant to be.
"Ready? On the count of three. 1, 2, 3," she said as she let go of the hawk and it flew to a nearby tree.
In this case, a group of summer campers at the Okeeheelee Park were there to watch, as she released five red-shouldered hawks.
"To be able to see them fly off and not look back, it just brings you know, tears to your eyes," said Bowen, outdoor habitat supervisor at Folke Peterson.
The red-shouldered hawks were at Folke Peterson Wildlife Center for the past three months. They learned to fly in this big cage and they enjoyed a steady diet of rats, mice and chicks.
They were brought in by people who found them on the ground, in scattered locations around Palm Beach County. They were babies, just a few weeks old, about the size of your hand.
"It's like your kids. you raise them, and they look beautiful. They're doing great and you say oh, you guys are going to make it," said Vered Nograd, Folke Peterson wildlife care manager.
So they don't get too attached to them, they don't give the hawks names.
"We've given 'em the very best quality of care, the best you know, chance of survival. And now it's just up to them. So as far as I'm concerned I do believe they'll make it, they'll be just fine," Bowen said.
While some of the birds are healthy enough to be released back into the wild, others like this mature hawk will have to be sent to other wildlife centers because of their permanent injuries.
These red-shouldered hawks are some of the last creatures the Folke Peterson center will nurse back to health. The center is running out of money, donations are drying up, and they will close soon, probably before the end of July.
With any luck, the red-shouldered hawks will survive. But the center that helped save them will soon disappear.
When it announced it was closing a couple of weeks ago, Folke Peterson had about 350 injured or orphaned birds and animals. Some have been released, others have been given to other facilities. They now have less than 100 left.