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Student rehabilitates raptor caught in tornado

August 05, 2011 12:00AM

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Meagan Duffee, a PSU senior biology major from Nevada, Mo., releases Phoenix, a red-tailed hawk that was injured in the May 22 Joplin tornado. Duffee is licensed by the Federal Migratory Bird Office to rehabilitate birds. (Photo courtesy the Joplin Globe)

When Delia Lister got the call in late May that tornado cleanup volunteers working in Joplin had found an injured, starving raptor amid the destruction, she had to make a difficult decision.

Even though Lister, director of Pittsburg State University's Nature Reach, had been forced to eliminate the Raptor Rehabilitation program five years ago due to a decrease in funds, she couldn't just turn her back on the animal - or the educational opportunities it would provide for students.

"We knew after having survived in the rubble for nearly a week, that bird had to be a fighter," Lister said. "We had to give it a chance."

The red-tailed hawk, estimated to be about 5 years old, had been living in the wild when the deadly tornado blew through. When rescuers found it, they initially took it to the Joplin Humane Society. In an attempt to make more long-term arrangements, volunteers soon called Nature Reach.

With the help of PSU student employee Meagan Duffee, a senior biology major from Nevada, Mo., who is licensed by the Federal Migratory Bird Office to rehabilitate birds, Lister agreed to take in the animal and transfer it to her student.  Duffee named him "Phoenix," and for more than two months fed and nurtured him while his broken wing healed.

"We knew that his odds of healing were good, and that's not always the case when it comes to a broken wing," Lister said. "Usually a wing break means death because they don't heal properly and the raptor can't hunt."

Eventually Duffee put the bird in a larger cage to allow to him a few practice flights, and on July 28, invited local media to a wooded location in Joplin to view his permanent release.

Phoenix's rehabilitation was just one of many educational opportunities Nature Reach has provided to the community. Since its inception 26 years ago, the program has served more than 100,000 students in the area through camps, teacher workshops, and community and school programs. And although the program continues to exist due to the generosity of private donors (Duffee's one-year position, for example, was possible because of a donation), Lister sees a big need for it to grow.

"No other university in Kansas has an educational nature-based program, and environmental issues and having an appreciation for the Earth are such hot topics," Lister said. "It gives you a great feeling to help in a situation like this. It's a nice way to educate people, and it's a program that's important in this part of the state."

©2011 Pittsburg State University