Closeup of turkey vulture
Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Educational Ambassadors from the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center

Why you shouldn’t judge a bird by his beak

During our five-year span living northeast of Ft. Collins, Colorado, we had frequent encounters with birds: from the iridescent pheasants bobbing and strutting across our driveway, wide-eyed barn owls nesting in pockmarks along the irrigation canal banks, white pelicans fishing in Cobb Lake. Meadowlarks serenaded sunrise from a post behind the horse barn, like heralds of the morning. Eagles foraged near the warm water inlet into the Fossil Creek Reservoir, and Redtails, Swainson’s and Cooper’s hawks soared over the open pastures, emitting eerie high-pitched shrieks.

Before their separation from Colorado State University, the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center maintained their Educational Ambassadors at the Environmental Learning Center just west of the interstate along the Cache La Poudre River. The center housed avian ambassadors who had suffered illness, commonly West Nile Virus, or injury with no chance of returning to the wild. The Raptor center rescued, treated, and rehabilitated multiple raptors at their center on Vine Ave in Ft Collins, but the healed ambassadors that handled close up interaction with people lived in huge aviaries where they were weighed, examined, and handled daily. Many made it to show and tell at schools, libraries, and community events and fundraisers all around the northern front range. Daily, the public was allowed to get within a few feet of eagles and hawks and to read their individual histories posted along the cage fronts. Many of the birds seemed aloof — the golden eagle with her back to the public, the regal Bald eagle statuesque in profile. The newcomers, hawks and one falcon, one Great Horned Owl, seemed nervous, moving as quickly as they could on damaged limbs or partial wing to the many uniquely fashioned perches and ramps made in patterns for each bird’s need.

We always stopped in front of one oddly shaped, elongated aviary with multiple perches, branches, ramps, and seemingly pet toys. Three birds immediately vied for attention, bobbing, chirping, bending their heads left or right, looking directly into our eyes at the front of the wire pen, as close as they could get to us. Intelligent, mischievous, they seemed to mimic our nods.

Adult Male. Rescued in winter, 1988. Poorly healed fracture in left wing with severe arthritis. Frostbitten toes. Normal winter migration to the gulf coast and into South America.

Two younger, being evaluated for ambassadorships. No Senate confirmation required.

These were the ugly ducklings of the raptor world, the garbage collectors. Birds capable of spewing rotten mice in our faces if we were threatening. These three wanted to communicate. They seemed to laugh. They made us laugh with them. Talk about ambassadors.

They were Turkey Vultures.




Veterinarian CSU 1975. Mom. Rider of mustangs. Author of Napa Valley Vets, novel Colorado Blood, and over 20 case reports and features for EQUUS and on line..

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Patty Latham

Patty Latham

Veterinarian CSU 1975. Mom. Rider of mustangs. Author of Napa Valley Vets, novel Colorado Blood, and over 20 case reports and features for EQUUS and on line..

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