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One Volunteer’s Inspiration Leads to a “Lucky” Experience

By Guest Author Aiden Bergam, Volunteer

Introduction by Rob Miller, IBO Research Biologist, GIS Specialist

“We at IBO are dependent upon many factors to successfully complete our work. In some cases such as our raptor trapping operations, we are dependent upon live lure animals (always invasive species) to lure in the native predators. We are also dependent upon eager volunteers to help with various aspects of our operations. This story is about merging these needs. How can we improve the health and well being of our lure animals, and can we do it by engaging our extensive volunteer community. I will let Aiden provide the details, but here is a win-win-win!

As a result of the work our operations were more efficient, our lure animals were healthier, safe, and comfortable, and we were able to provide a rewarding experience to our community.

I suspect that this is not the last we will see of Aiden and the rest of his family!”–Rob Miller

Ever since I was little, I had my heart set on seeing a hawk up close. Whenever I saw a hawk, I was fascinated with it. Up until a few months ago, I thought the closest I would ever get to a bird of prey was at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, as they sat behind the glass, or in the hands of the volunteers. Without my knowing, at the beginning of the summer my mom filled out a form notifying the Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO) of our desire to volunteer. A couple of months later, IBO sent out an email, asking for volunteers that would be willing to make a pigeon enclosure for their Lucky Peak research banding station.

When my mom asked me if I wanted to commit to this project, I responded with a highly exuberant “Yes!”

a teen uses a drill to attach two pieces of wood together
Aiden securing the framing for the brand new enclosure for the Lucky Peak lure pigeons. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

My grandfather has a developed workshop and knowledge of designing projects, and with his expertise we were able to start the project. We had to brainstorm how to meet all of IBO’s requirements (there were many), ask area businesses for donations, and complete the project before school started.

two teens stand in a driveway looking over a partially constructed wooden project
Construction team Aiden (left) with sister Kayla (right) assemble and secure the pigeon perches with precision. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

I had to memorize a speech and gained donations from Franklin Building Supply and Tractor Supply Company. We used wood, siding, and wire mesh, all given to us through the generosity of people at these businesses.

a teen standing next to a trailer holds two rolls of metal mesh
Franklin Building Supply and Tractor Supply were local businesses that generously donated building materials for this volunteer opportunity. Here Aiden is proudly showing off some donated wire mesh for the bottom of the enclosure. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

After days of construction, the enclosure was finally complete!

two teens stand next to a small wooden structure that looks similar to a chicken coop or rabbit hutch
Newly built Lucky Peak pigeon loft with construction team (Aiden [left], Kayla [right]). Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam.

After handing off the finished product to the IBO, my family received a special invitation to head up to Lucky Peak to be involved with trapping and banding birds of prey. We stayed the night of my birthday to see if the owl crew would be able to trap any owls. The whole team was so amazing when we arrived.

They even decorated the wall tent we were staying in for my birthday!

That night they did not trap any owls, yet the experience to see the process was still enjoyable. The next morning, we watched the songbird crew band not only songbirds, but also a Sharp-shinned Hawk and the first Steller’s Jay of the season.

four people walk down a trail through sagebrush and grass, toward the small wooden hawk blind. Boise can be seen in the backdrop in the valley below
The Lucky Peak raptor crew leads the Bergam family to the raptor blind for set up with excited anticipation of a great flight day. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

At about 10:30 A.M., Abbie, the raptor trapper for the day, invited us to come down to the hawk blind. But first, we stopped by the pigeon enclosure, which they had lovingly named “Le Chateau”, to pick up the brave pigeons that were to be used to lure raptors into the station that day.

I felt quite accomplished when I saw the pigeon enclosure in use, as we had poured a lot of time and effort into it!

image shows 3 people standing in the forest next to an enclosure with birds in it
It was great to see the pigeon loft “Le Chateau” in use. The lure birds seemed to be comfortable in their new space! Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

My sister Kayla and I watched them set up the traps and organize the station before the trapping could begin. As we waited patiently in the blind, they taught us the process of noticing birds of prey, where to look, and area landmarks to reference as we kept our eyes to the sky.

a view from inside the trapping blind looking out. Four people crouch inside a wooden shed, looking out the windows. Through the largest front window you can see a view of the Boise Ridge with mountains, trees, and grassy foothills
Aiden and Kayla honing their newly acquired raptor-spotting skills as they scan the skies while Emma tries to lure down the next hungry raptor. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

The crew was so knowledgeable about these birds and informed us of many interesting facts. One of the most interesting things I learned was that the Sharp-Shinned hawk will injure it’s keel while chasing prey through the branches. It was also interesting that you can identify species and sex based on the diameter of their legs.

The first bird we trapped was a female Cooper’s Hawk. When it was time to release her, I was finally able to come into contact with my first bird of prey.

I was so excited to be able to fulfill a lifelong dream!

a blonde teen stands on the hilltop at the banding station. His arm is outstretched overhead and a large cooper's hawk is flying away from his hand with spread wings. an IBO biologist stands behind him watching
Aiden releasing his first raptor, a female Cooper’s Hawk! Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

I could not believe I was finally able to touch a hawk. The biologists taught me how to hold it to keep not only the bird safe, but to also keep me safe.

To feel so much strength packed into such a small body, was something I never thought I would experience.

I was expecting it to be more aggressive and loud, refusing to be held. However, it was calm, calculating, and would hold your gaze.

a blonde teen gently holds a female Sharp-shinned Hawk with both hands. He is looking down at her smiling
Under the instruction of the trained IBO raptor biologists, Aiden learned proper handling techniques that are designed to keep people and the birds safe. Here he prepares to release a female Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo Credit: Nicole Bergam

For the rest of the day, Abbie was able to skillfully draw in almost any hawk, while both Jerimiah and Emma gathered and recorded information, such as length of wing, length of tail, age, and whether or not the bird had parasites. It was a slow day for them, with only five female Cooper’s Hawks, but to me it was everything I could have dreamed of! –Aiden Bergam

This article is part of our 2022 end of the year newsletter! View the full newsletter here, or click “older posts” below to read the next article.

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