The call of a harpy eagle is something you’ll never forget – especially in the back hallway of the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. On a behind-the-scenes tour, the 10-pound raptor let out an ear-shattering screech, before delicately – yes, delicately – taking a piece of meat out of trainer Erin Katzner’s fingers.
“He’s super gentle, which isn’t something we expected at all,” Katzner said.
Katzner is an experienced bird handler and one of two working with the harpy. She’s also the director of global engagement for the Peregine Fund.
He’s an acquisition that will be something really rare, Katzner said. He will be one of only three glove-trained harpies in the U.S., and the only one visitors will be able to see because the others are owned privately.
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The harpy made his debut March 12 at the center and there is a contest running to name the new eagle.
Now that the harpy is out of the bag, so to speak, his presence also heralds the announcement of the Peregrine Fund’s planned multimillion-dollar expansion of the center located south of the Boise Airport. Currently, the center hopes to kick off the expansion in the summer of 2019.
The first phase of the project includes building a larger interpretive and welcome center, and state-of-the-art exhibits for North American raptor species, including golden and bald eagles, red tail and Swainson’s hawks, peregrine falcons and three species of native owls.
The current indoor classroom and theater also will expand and get updated with touch-screen displays. The 15-acre site will get an amphitheater for shows where the center’s avian ambassadors can really fly.
Phase two will add a large, indoor tropical bird habitat and flying area so people can see these rare birds year-round. This will be the permanent home for the harpy and other birds from South and Central America, as well as Africa, including the African fish eagle in Madagascar, another one of the Peregrine Funds’ success stories. They want to have phase one completed by 2020, when an international conference of raptor researchers is due in Boise.
This is the first expansion of the educational facility and the fund’s programs in its 48-year history. The 2050 Plan will roll out an international array of initiatives geared to put the organization firmly at the forefront of the world conservation movement, said Heather Meuleman, the fund’s director of campaigns.
“We’re investing in environmental education for children in the Treasure Valley and across Southwest Idaho,” she said.
The fund’s headquarters are at the center, at 5668 Flying Hawk Lane in Boise, where the center greets 50,000 visitors each year.
About the Peregrine Fund
It was founded in 1970 to restore the peregrine falcon, which at the time was all but extinct. That species’ survival is arguably the most successful conservation effort of all time. Peregrines were removed from the endangered species list in 1999.
The Peregrine Fund came to Boise in 1984 at the invitation of Morley Nelson, a master falconer and activist who is credited with saving the golden and bald eagles. He also spearheaded the effort to create what’s now the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, a federally protected bird-breeding reserve of more than 440,000 acres between Melba and Mountain Home. It celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Nelson died in 2005.
The Peregrine Fund established its own presence on 518 acres on the edge of Boise. The center’s campus was built as a research and breeding facility. Now the only breeding that happens there is for the California condors. About 17 to 20 are released each year near the Grand Canyon.
The center now houses the rare falconer’s archive, educational areas and displays, and several live bird exhibits.
It’s also where the fund runs its global community conservation programs that work with the local population to restore habitat and protect species such as the Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk, which was devastated after last year’s hurricanes, and the harpy eagle.
About the harpy
Harpy eagles are native to Panama’s Darien Gap, a 4 million acre swath of roadless rainforest. It’s the third-largest eagle species in the world behind the Philippine and Steller’s sea eagles.
Like almost all eagle species, it is the top natural predator in its environment. And like many other eagle species, it is demonized as a baby killer and shot by humans. It also depends on one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world.
“The Darien Gap is this amazing place,” Katzner said. “It’s one of the last strongholds of the harpy eagle. The trees are strong enough for them to nest in, and there is enough food for them to survive.”
The Peregrine Fund is working with the two native cultures who live in the Darien and want to protect the birds. “They also want to join the 21st century economy, and that’s a challenge,” she said.
This harpy was hatched as part of a breeding program in Panama and released into the wild, but tour guides started setting out food to get him down for the tourists. He got too comfortable around humans, which put him in danger of hurting someone or getting shot.
He was collected and sent to the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas to breed, but it didn’t work out.
“They didn’t like each other in that way,” Katzner said. “So the zoo called and asked if we wanted our harpy back, and I was like, ‘Does the Pope wear a funny hat?’ Yeah, I want a harpy eagle.”
He was transferred over the summer to Boise and has been working with Katzner and trainer Monica Pittman on glove technique. Now he will become an avian ambassador for his species and all of his eagle family.
How to name the harpy eagle
Pick up a “Bird Brains” activity book at any Treasure Valley Albertsons to learn about the harpy. Fill out the “Bird Call” form with your suggestion.
Then bring it to the World Center for Birds of Prey and get in free to see the raptor and the rest of the collection.
At the end of March the staff will choose five finalists for the community to vote on. The winner will get a prize basket, a behind-the-scenes tour to see the harpy up close, and a visit from a raptor to your school.
Visit the World Center for Birds of Prey
Where: 5668 Flying Hawk Lane, Boise
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, March through November; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays to Sunday, December through February.
Admission: $10 general; $8 for 62 and older; $5 for ages 4 to 16; free to members and children younger than 4.