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Raptor rehabilitator seeks transportation help for rescued birds

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Pat Oldham has been saving the lives of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls since 1981. But lately, the local woman has run into difficulties in her mission to rescue injured raptors.

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At one time, Oldham said, Northwest Airlines donated space to fly the birds to Minneapolis for treatment at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. Oldham recalled a pilot announcing to passengers that they had the honor of flying with a bald eagle.

Oldham has also used the services of private pilots who volunteered to fly the injured raptors to the center. The pilots counted the volunteer air time toward their licensing requirements.

However, she said Northwest discontinued the free transportation service, and high fuel costs have curtailed the pilots' volunteer service. To send a bird to the Raptor Center costs $75 in air freight from Mesaba Airlines.

Stephanie Pommier, development officer for the Raptor Center, said the center is also struggling financially, and the transportation cost is a burden.

"I get to a point where I'm euthanizing a lot more birds," Oldham said. "I look at them, and if they only have a 30 percent chance, I put them down."

The Raptor Center rehabilitates birds to return them to the wild, if possible. Other raptors that are too badly damaged for release, but are healthy otherwise, can become educational birds for programs such as Oldham's demonstrations at schools and the Headwaters Science Center.

Oldham said the Raptor Center has a success rate of 60-70 percent in bringing birds back to a condition that allows them to be set free to live a normal life in the wild.

Last week, a conservation officer from the White Earth Reservation brought her a young, male saw-whet owl. The bird had damaged its wing, probably by flying into a window, Oldham said. She said owls sometimes hunt near houses for mice that forage at night around bird feeders.

Oldham hoped the bird, which she named Cargo, could fly again, or if not, become an educational bird for her programs. However, to find out if either of those possibilities was viable, the Raptor Center had to pay the bird's transportation cost.

Unfortunately, the X-rays at the Raptor Center showed that the little owl had a dislocated shoulder that could never be put right.

"I wanted the X-rays and I wanted the veterinarian to make the decision," Oldham said. "He was in pain and that was not correctible."

So, the owl was euthanized.

Now, Oldham is looking for a solution to the transportation costs. She has set up a Cargo Fund to give people the opportunity and encouragement to donate to the Raptor Center. Pommier said if area contributors would like to help pay for bird transportation from Bemidji, they should mark their checks or include a note and the money will be put into a special fund for that purpose. Oldham will also have a Cargo Fund collection can available for donations during her educational presentations.

The address is: The Raptor Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, 1920 Fitch Ave., St. Paul, MN, 55108. For more details on the Raptor Center, visit www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/raptor/home.html.

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