Beginning in the spring of 2008, the Discovery Center will offer live birds of prey programming to visitors in collaboration with Wildlife Rescue of the Gorge and Rowena Wildlife Clinic.
For many years Chris Tolotti has run Wildlife Rescue of the Gorge as a one-person rescue and education non-profit organization. When she would bring her program birds of prey to the Discovery Center, the theater was packed with excited children and families. It was one of the most popular programs and led Discovery Center staff to wonder how they might afford more such programming for their visitors.
Then in May, Jean Cypher, D.V.M. of the Rowena Wildlife Clinic called with an idea. She had recently rescued a 4-year old male bald eagle, whose wing injury would prevent it from ever hunting successfully in the wild. A zoo in southern California was looking for a bald eagle, but she wondered if there would be any way to keep it here in the Gorge rather than shipping it into a big city zoo.
This phone call resulted in a lot of conversations between the Discovery Center administrator, Cypher, Tolotti, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird Division, and Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.
The idea for a full-scale education and exhibit project evolved over the next six months as Discovery Center staff began reading, studying, volunteering at the clinic, navigating through the federal permitting process, and expanding the program concept.
The plan meets several needs. It affords Cypher and Tolotti a new avenue for educating the public about raptors and their habitats, provides a place for non-releasable injured birds that must otherwise be euthanized, and offers the Discovery Center a new attraction that meets their mission to inspire appreciation and stewardship of the Gorge.
The bald eagle will be strictly an exhibition bird, allowing the public a relatively close view at a very large raptor. Its 24-foot by 48-foot enclosure will allow it room to exercise, though its wing injury allows it to mostly hop and flap its wings, rather than fly.
Building the enclosure is truly a community collaborative effort. The Dalles-Wahtonka High School football team, under the guidance of shop teacher and coach Arnold Wardwell, worked on measuring and staking out the site, as well as preparing materials.
"Now we need to hammer a lot of nails to finish the cage, which is part wire mesh and part wooden slats. Volunteers with hammers are welcome," said Director of Administration, Carolyn Purcell.
In addition, to the eagle exhibit, several birds are in training to become education birds. Each is an injured bird, unsuitable for release into the wild. These include a great horned owl named Josephine, a screech owl named Benjamin, Uno the saw-whet owl, an American kestrel named Zippora, and Dakota the red-tailed hawk. A peregrine falcon named Bud made his debut with Tolotti at Maryhill State Park in 2006.
All of these birds are the property of the federal government. "They are in our care at the discretion of the Fish and Wildlife Service and under the constant guidance and supervision of our mentors, Chris and Jean," said Purcell.
Raptor programs will be available for scheduled public programs, visiting school groups, adult tour groups, and through virtual field trips via videoconference.
To date the Discovery Center has conducted videoconference classes to students in 11 states across the country. A kids camp for 1st through 6th graders on Dec. 27 and 28 will feature the first raptor program as the young birds take to the stage for the first time in front of an audience.