Cage helps birds of prey regain their freedom

Invermere Veterinary Hospital will open flight cage to visitors for Wings over Rockies festival 2018

The Invermere Veterinary Hospital released more than 55 birds of prey back into the wild over the past seven years after nursing their injuries and rehabilitating them in a custom-designed flight cage.

Another injured bird – a big bald eagle – will likely be moving to the cage soon. The eagle suffered three broken bones – two in her wing and one in her leg. The eagle had surgery and is being nursed back to health at the veterinary hospital. She was scheduled for an X-ray the same day the Pioneer interviewed veterinary technician Judy Ellison.

Conservation officers and clinics as far away as Cranbrook bring birds to Invermere for care. Not all veterinary doctors can perform surgeries on birds, and Dr. Mark Zehnder is exceptionally talented, Ms. Ellison said.

Typically when birds require surgery, they need to be confined for up to six weeks while their bones heal. Then the birds are moved to the raptor flight cage, where they build muscle strength, flying strength and work on their cardio, Ms. Ellison said.

Bald eagles and golden eagles need a big space to fly, and the raptor flight cage on Ms. Ellison’s property offers plenty of room to accommodate a variety of birds as they recover. The space, which is 20 feet wide, 20 feet high and 100 feet long, has been a temporary home for eagles, owls and hawks as well as ducks, pigeons and crows.

“It’s a really great feeling to release a bird and watch it fly away,” Ms. Ellison said. “It’s super satisfying.”

Volunteers and donors built the raptor flight cage, and donors keep the Invermere Veterinary Hospital’s bird rescue program running. Ms. Ellison estimated that the program costs $7,000, including medical care.

In addition to helping birds, the cage was used to rehabilitate a baby elk and a young cougar.

During Wings Over The Rockies, the cage will also accommodate visitors.

While the cage is typically a secluded and quiet resting place for recovering birds, Ms. Ellison will be offering a tour during the annual Wings Over The Rockies festival. Visitors are invited to tour the flight cage during an open house on Toby Benches from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 12th.

Depending on how quickly the bald eagle with the broken bones recovers, she may be swooping around during the tour. There is a $10 cost for the open house. Parking is limited so visitors are encouraged to carpool.

Wings Over The Rockies runs from May 7th to 13th.

For more information about the festival and its events, visit www.wingsovertherockies.org.

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