Couple Volunteers to Promote Raptor Education
Reprint from Xcel Energy's XTRA FEBRUARY 16, 2004
The long slow spiral of an eagle, hawk or other raptor, its wings spread against a clear blue sky - a beautiful sight that humans are blessed with. That image, however, is becoming less frequent as development encroaches on the birds' habitat, putting birds-of-prey in danger.
But a dedicated group of volunteers believe that people experiencing the awe of these majestic birds up-close, and understanding the needs of raptors, is a critical step in the preservation of birds-of-prey. They are working to give people that opportunity by taking hawks, eagles, falcons and owls to classrooms and lecture halls and community events - or by bringing students and others to their "Classroom in the Wild."
HawkQuest, a Colorado nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting raptors and their habitat, was founded in 1986. Founder Kin Quitugua is a master falconer and conservationist who has worked for more than 25 years to cultivate environmental awareness and educate people about the important place that raptors play in the ecosystem.
He takes that message to more than a million people in the United States each year through an innovative series of classes and outreach programs, which bring live birds-of-prey to people of all ages - from pre-school children to university students to senior citizens. The programs focus on the need for biodiversity, the finality of extinction and of the importance of humans respecting and being responsible stewards of the natural world.
In addition to the classes, more than 40 HawkQuest volunteers and four staff members take live raptors to a variety to "booth appearances" - at Native American markets, Renaissance festivals, educational symposia and craft fairs across the country. The booths offer HawkQuest an important forum for lecturing about raptors and the need to preserve them for future generations.
It was at such an event - the Castle Rock Art Fair - that an Xcel Energy couple, Tina and Mario Lopez, first came in contact with HawkQuest. They were inspired by the birds and by the nonprofit's work to preserve and protect them - and decided to get involved.
Mario Lopez, who works in the Customer
and Field Operations business unit,
"I come from Native American heritage and in our spirituality, Eagle is very powerful. A while back I was sick and Eagle kept appearing at different moments during my illness and recovery - for me, Eagle is a spirit guide involved in my healing," Mario said. "So I wanted to give something back, and not just in a financial way. HawkQuest has been a way to do that."
"After seeing the birds and talking with volunteers at the HawkQuest booth, we knew we wanted to volunteer," Tina added. "After a year on a waiting list, they called us and invited us to a class for volunteers. Now we volunteer as handlers for the birds and give lectures for schools, assisted-living facilities, the Denver Public Library and in field programs for groups like the Cub Scouts."
During their volunteer hours with HawkQuest, the couple gets to spend valuable time with a variety of 25 different raptors - Great Horned, Eurasian Eagle and South American Spectacled owls, Harris' , Swainsons', Ferruginous and Red-Tailed hawks, Bald and Golden eagles, Peregrine falcons and Kestrels. Many of the birds at HawkQuest have come from rehabilitation centers after having been injured, while others come from zoos, falconers or from people who have kept the birds as "pets." None of the birds could survive in the wild.
"The birds we work with have been imprinted - they haven't
had the chance to grow up naturally. They haven't learned
to hunt, so they associate people with food, and kind of see
people as their parents," Mario said. "They couldn't
survive in the wild, so in a sense they're ambassadors for
The couple now spends 60 to 80 hours a month volunteering with HawkQuest, sometimes doing road shows, lectures and community presentations, and other times working to maintain the "mews"- the open-air spots where the birds are tethered.
Xcel makes a matching donation for the time that the couple donates to HawkQuest - $5 an hour for up to 100 hours annually through the company's Dollars for Doing program. And HawkQuest also recently received a $5,000 grant from Xcel Energy Foundation's Environmental Partnership Initiative to develop birds-of-prey classroom materials that will focus on science, math and literature.
Through its "BirdCam"effort, Xcel Energy also has installed video cameras in nest boxes on some of its buildings and power plant stacks so the cameras can record the birds' life cycles. At several Minnesota power plants, for example, families of peregrine flacons are being photographed.
"Teachers at various schools have requested educational materials about raptors, and this HawkQuest grant will allow us to create a curriculum that integrates both HawkQuest's information and the "Bird Cam" effort," Tina said. "It's been encouraging to see Xcel Energy's involvement."
The company also signed an agreement with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to explore ways to reduce raptor fatalities in the area. HawkQuest is offering its expertise and making recommendations to Xcel Energy on how to minimize injuries to birds of prey around the company's power lines, Mario said.
Tina Lopez, who works in Corporate Communications,
works a Golden Eagle
One of Tina's favorite things is the organization's unique "Classroom-in-the-Wild" field program, which gives people the opportunity to spend two hours in a prairie setting to watch several free-flying Harris hawks pursuing and sometimes catching their prey.
"I love seeing the kids out there watching the birds. We're bringing an experience of nature to people that normally might not have had that chance," she said. "That, and being able to provide a good home for these birds, makes my time with HawkQuest very rewarding."
Currently all of HawkQuest's programs are outreach, but the nonprofit hopes to acquire land where it can construct a freestanding facility for its raptors that is open to the public. Anyone interested in helping support HawkQuest can call (303) 690-6959 and visit www.hawquest.org.
For information about HawkQuest, including how to book a program
or to become a volunteer, call (303) 690-6959.
HawkQuest business hours are 9am to 5pm Mountain Time, Tuesday through Saturday.