It is the symbol of our great nation, the bald eagle, a mighty raptor. It is my good fortune to observe these magnificent creatures in the wild. I see them sitting on a tree limb overlooking the bay waiting for fish. In the spring I watch overhead as they perform their territorial dance. On lucky days they track my yellow jeep as it travels up the peninsula. Equally magnificent are the other raptors, not as easily recognized that share the area

Raptors, birds of prey by their very name are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. The Latin word rapere means to seize or take by force, which is exactly what a raptor does. Their excellent eyesight, magnificent feet and talons, and curved razor sharp beaks make this all possible.

As you might guess not everyone is a fan of raptors. Chicken farmers, small pet owners, among others feel these birds of prey threaten their pets and other small furry creatures living among us. I must say I was not thrilled the day I saw a hawk grab a bunny from the grass.

As hard as it may be this is the cycle of life. Without raptors we would be over run by rodents, snakes, rabbits, insects, just to name a few. Vultures clean the carrion ridding us of unwanted carcasses, the opportunity for larger predators or insects entering our living areas, and bacterial growth. A healthy ecosystem is a balanced ecosystem and raptors contribute to balance.

Unfortunately, as with our favorite rescues, cats and dogs, injured raptors also need rescuing. Humans cause most injuries. Raptors collide with cars, power lines, ingest poisons from dumps or lawn and garden chemicals, and are shot. Raptors are protected under the Endangered Species Act among others, but are still accidently or purposefully harmed.

Fortunately raptors have a rescuer in the Grand Traverse Area, specifically Empire, MI. Wings of Wonder a non-profit raptor sanctuary begun in 1990 by Rebecca Lessard comes to their rescue. In addition to raptor rescue their mission is to educate the public encouraging appreciation, respect, and honor for these great birds. They are licensed by the Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick and orphaned raptors. Rebecca, her volunteers and nine local vets work hard to release these birds back into the wild. The birds that recover, but are not fit for release become educators and foster parents.

Rebecca and Doolin Photo by Christopher M Rieseer
Rebecca and Doolin
Photo by Christopher M Rieseer

It has been my pleasure to attend two of Rebecca’a educational programs. The multi-aged audience is packed, eager to learn and awed by her raptor ambassadors.

Visit Rebecca’s site: You will meet Pearl the Red Tailed Hawk, Doolin the Turkey Vulture (he has a mad crush on Rebecca), Rita the Peregrin Falcon, Florence the Long-Eared Owl, Ned the Saw Whet Owl (my favorite), Jaeda the American Kestrel, Arlo the Red Eastern Screech Owl, Gilda the Gray Eastern Screech Owl and Zenon the Snowy Owl. There is a photo of each bird with its back story.

I have saved my favorite for last: the release. If possible the raptors are released close to or at the location from which they were recovered. To continue the educational process Rebecca invites her followers etc. to attend these releases. You have not truly experienced the wonder of nature until you have seen a powerful animal fly into freedom.