A Clinic That’s For the Birds

U of M Radio On Your Historic Dial

By Rebecca Toov

You are listening to U of M Radio on your Historic Dial!

From 1938-1979, the Minnesota School of the Air brought educational programs into the classrooms of Minnesota and beyond over radio airwaves and through tape transcription. During the 1977-1978 season, School of the Air produced a series of radio “field trips” called Look What We Found, a program that introduced students to people and places in Minnesota. Join us this season as we revisit these radio field trips. Today’s episode takes listeners to a clinic that’s for the birds… 

Season 2: Episode 4. A Clinic That’s for the Birds

You are listening to U of M Radio on your Historic Dial podcast. Welcome to Season 2: Episode 4.

Hi, this is Rebecca from University Archives. Are you ready to take another field trip in sound on Look What We Found?  Today we’ll travel to the St. Paul campus to “A Clinic That’s for the Birds” – which also happens to be the title of the December 8, 1977 episode of Look What We Found.  If you haven’t yet deciphered the title of the broadcast, we are going on an audio tour of the Raptor Center.  The Raptor Center is a research and rehabilitation center for birds of prey which today cares for approximately 800 ill and injured raptors each year.

"A clinic that's for the birds" audio reel and playback note.
“A clinic that’s for the birds” audio reel and playback note.

When the program “A Clinic That’s for the Birds,” aired in 1977, the Raptor Research and Rehabilitation Program – as it was then known – was a relatively new program in the College of Veterinary Medicine.  The program was initiated with the research of Dr. Gary Duke in the early 1970s. According to a published history of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Duke’s area of study centered on the digestive systems of raptors.  He asked the Department of Natural Resources if they had any injured owls that he could examine, and the DNR brought 30 owls to him. Duke cared for their illnesses and injuries and developed methods to treat the birds with the hope of releasing them back into the wild. From 1972-1974 Duke and other veterinary students cared for 280 birds, 120 of which they were able to return to the outdoors.  After veterinary student Pat Redig graduated in 1974, the Mardag Foundation and the College of Veterinary Medicine offered funds to hire Redig to continue the raptor program. You will hear Redig in the broadcast as he gives a program producer and friends a tour of the raptor program facilities.

Information brochure for the Raptor Research & Rehabilitation Program, today's Raptor Center.
Information brochure for the Raptor Research & Rehabilitation Program, today’s Raptor Center.

The Raptor Research and Rehabilitation Program was housed in a building known as Temporary East of Haecker where Duke and Redig modified rooms to accommodate injured raptors. Other grants, including an annual grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, supported their work and allowed them to start caring for the endangered peregrine falcon and bald eagle.

Temporary East of Haecker and Veterinary Clinic, St. Paul Campus, 1954.
Temporary East of Haecker and Veterinary Clinic, St. Paul Campus, 1954.

In 1988, with a donation from Don and Louise Gabbert, the Gabbert Raptor Center was built on the St. Paul campus and the rehabilitation program was renamed The Raptor Center. 

So what did the Minnesota School of the Air intend to teach young students on this field trip broadcast? The teacher’s manual that was disseminated to educators offered clear suggestions for before and after broadcast discussions. Answer the questions “What is a bird of prey? What is an endangered species?  What would you do if you found a sick or injured bird of prey while walking in the woods?  Answer – Call the game warden or the Department of Animal Science at the University.

Teacher's manual for "A Clinic that's for the Birds."
Teacher’s manual for “A Clinic that’s for the Birds.”

For more information on the Raptor Center’s research, rehabilitation work, and educational programs visit www.raptor.umn.edu

Now let’s look back and listen to “A Clinic That’s for the Birds,” the December 8, 1977 broadcast of Look What We Found on radio station KUOM.  

Broadcast Transcript

[Music]

Various voices: I don’t believe it. [Laughing] Wow! Psyched out.

[Group exclamation] Look what we found!

Announcer: Come on you’ve been sitting there far too long. Join the Minnesota School of the Air as we take a field trip in sound to someplace you’ve probably never been, somewhere in and around the Twin Cities. And here to go with you are your hosts Walter, Patty, and Bill.

Bill: Who found something interesting this week?

Walter: I did Bill. I went over to the St. Paul campus and look what I found.

Bill: A feather!

Walter: That’s right.  It came from the Raptor Clinic, which is a place where people bring injured birds of prey to be, uh, healed.

Bill: What’s a bird of prey, Walter?

Walter: Well, it would be like a hawk, or an owl, or a falcon – some kind of bird that eats meat, eats fish or rodents, or other birds.

Patty: Walter, who went with you?

Walter: Rich and Ralph… and their friend Mark… We were greeted there by a researcher at the Department of Animal Science, Pat Redig and he brought us into a room about the size of a small bedroom with many cages along the walls and that’s where some of the birds were. You’ll hear some owls and hawks screeching and you’ll also hear the strange throaty clucking of some eagles on this tape. Oh, by the way, you’ll also hear some dogs in the background but they were involved in other research and they don’t concern us.

Pat: Alright now, the only thing is when we are in here, you know these are wild birds, they’re not tame pet birds, they don’t like being handled and they are afraid of you, so keep your movements slow and your voices low, okay? So, we don’t get them too upset.  The birds we have here we keep in this room because they either have some disease or they have some injury that requires that they be handled every day, needed to have wounds inspected or bandages changed, antibiotics giving, or special feeding or something like that. We kind of… this is kind of our infirmary here. We just call it the patient room, um, where the birds are housed in these individual cages. Once they’ve recovered well enough from their injuries, to the point where they are getting along better on their own, then we move them into other rooms where they mix with a large number of other birds, and we’ll look down and see those a little bit later.  There are quite a number of birds that we have around right now at this time of the year that are permanent cripples that are left over from last year. Our biggest season is in the fall months, during September, October, November, during that time the hawks are migrating through this state in very large numbers, and, um, that’s when the hunting seasons are open and an awful lot of them get shot by people. All these birds are protected by law both state and federal law and there’s no reason for any of them ever to be shot but we have a lot of people that don’t care or they are plain out too stupid and they shoot them.

Walter: Pat Redig brought a Richardson’s owl out of its cage to show us and let the boys feel the soft feathers on the top of its head.

Pat: No, this is a youngster here. [bird noises] Um, he looks like he’s really fierce but he’s actually playing with me. Now, when owls are taken from the nest at a very young age, they learn to recognize adults, recognize humans as their parents, rather than other owls and this bird here doesn’t know that he’s an owl, he thinks he’s a human. He was taken from the nest when he was very young by some kids, and the problem with that – the reason that the bird is here is that he has a disease that we call rickets. And rickets is a disease of the bones or the bones don’t develop properly. And the reason his bones didn’t develop properly is because the kids that took him from the nest didn’t know how to feed him, didn’t know how to take care of him, and they fed him a completely wrong diet. Look at his wings, see how the kind of hang down in front, they don’t lay-up nice and smooth against the body?  Well, that’s because the wings are deformed, because his bones are bent and crooked and the poor diet that he was fed… A lot of people have the tendency to feed these birds hamburger, and hamburger is the worst thing you can feed them, or among the worst. They need the whole bodies of mice, rats, gophers, uh, small birds and things like that. They eat the feathers, they eat the bones, they eat the intestines and everything, and they need to have that in order to have a normal, balanced diet.  The message here is when you see wildlife, leave it alone, it belongs out in the wild, it doesn’t belong in your backyard to keep trying to make a pet out of it.

Child: How come it has that brown strap around by his foot?

Pat: Okay, that strap is called a jess, you see the little ring that’s on the end of it the little grommet. We can put a leash through that so if we want to handle the bird and tie him down someplace we can do that.  It’s just like putting a leash on a dog, only on birds we put them on their legs instead of around their neck.

Walter: Can that bird fly if it wants to?

Pat: No, it can’t, and it never will.

Walter: Because of the rickets?

Pat: Yes, right. Of course, you realize the owls hunt at night for the most part. Now if we talk about birds that hunt during the day we’re talking about the hawks and eagles. This is a Broad-winged Hawk here.

Child: What happened to him?

Pat: Uh, that bird was shot with a shotgun about 2 weeks ago and his wing is broken

Walter: And so you have, it’s strapped, right, all the way around the body?

Pat: Well, there’s stainless steel pins that have been inserted into the bones to hold everything in alignment, and then, uh, beyond that, the wing is splinted up against the body to hold it into position until it heals. Now this bird here is the same species of the one I just showed you, another Broad-winged Hawk.  And, uh, somebody shot this bird with a rifle and the bullet went right through its breast and broke it’s, one of its wings. And it’s healing up fairly well now.  It’s too early to say if the birds going to make it or not.

Child: Do they know what you’re doing to them?

Pat: No, they have no idea, all they know is that they are in some place where they wish they weren’t and they’re very afraid of what’s going on, and as soon as they can get out of here the happier they’ll be.

Child: Are they put to sleep when they’re in surgery?

Pat: Yes, we anesthetize them completely. Uh, hum. They’re sound asleep. Now, uh, one other bird I want to show you while we’re here is this one here, this is what we call a Peregrine Falcon.  They kill their prey by diving at it from a great height and hitting at a very hard blow and they can exceed speeds of 200 miles an hour in their dive.  Now the Peregrine Falcon is an endangered species. You’ve heard of endangered species, these are animals that are on the verge of extinction because their populations have been pushed so low by changes in their habitat that they can’t survive.  This species of bird used to nest on the Mississippi River on the cliffs there and on the cliffs up along the North Shore and all over the Eastern United States. There’s fewer than 50 of these birds left in the United States now and the thing that killed them off was DDT poisoning.  All these pesticides and things that we are system of agriculture and insists on putting on the fields and the crops and things like that to kill bugs and birds and stuff like that also kills the peregrine falcon and this is what’s driven this bird to the verge of extinction.  If the Peregrine Falcon can survive in the wild then we know that our habitat and our environment is stable.  If we have to maintain it in a zoo it simply a said commentary on the state of affair that our environment is in. Okay, let’s go look at some eagles. Everybody knows what an eagle is… [Group chatter] Now these birds will fly around a little bit but don’t worry about them, they aren’t…

[Wings flapping]

Pat: Okay, now I told you before when we take care of birds in the other room for a while, once they are well enough to be taken out of those cages, we put them in a room where they can move around a little bit more. This eagle room is one of those rooms where we keep all the eagles together. We usually get about 15-20 eagles in here every year. They’re… U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service flies eagles in from all over the United States for treatment and care here.

Child: How fast do birds usually heal?

Pat: That’s a hard question to answer, it depends on how severely they are injured.  If a bird comes in here with a broken bone the least amount of time it’s going to be in here is 4-5 weeks. Sometimes we’ve kept them here for over a year to get them back in shape.

Walter: By this time, we had moved from the room with the eagles to a window overlooking an outdoor fenced in area where about 12 birds where sitting on perches.  They’re put outside before they’re released to get them used to changes in temperature since for the past few months while they were healing the temperature in the rooms they’ve stayed in had always remained the same.

Child: Do any of these hawks or owls get away?

Pat: One time we ever had one get away is when some idiot came in here and cut a couple of their leashes, but normally, if everybody, if people keeps their noses out of here and leave us along they get along just fine and don’t get away.

Walter: Are they ever attacked by other animals? Dogs in the neighborhood or anything?

Pat:  Well, that’s why we keep up the fence around them pretty much to keep the dogs out. There are dogs and there is barn cats and stuff around here now so we have to keep them out by the fence and we haven’t had any trouble that way. People have been our only problem so far, which isn’t too surprising.  Well, I’ll tell ya, my biases are there but I, I mean, I love the birds and somebody’s got to look out for them and give them a fair shake because we’ve got too many people who are not interested in doing that and they’re interested in, you know, developing all the wild habitat and then the heck with the wildlife that’s out there. I can’t buy that sort of an attitude at all.

Walter: They don’t give regular tours at the Raptor Clinic but they will show small groups around and also Pat Redig goes out to schools to show off his birds. Call the Department of Animal Science at the University if you are interested.

Patty: Walter, does Pat ever get bitten by any of those wild birds?

Walter: He sure does. He was bitten by a hawk while we were there. He tried to take it out of the cage and I saw blood dripping down on the floor but it didn’t seem to bother him very much.

Bill: It looks like we’re just about out of time Walter.

Walter: I think we are.  Well, see you around.

Patty: Bye

Bill: Later!

Announcer: Producers for Look What We Found are Patty Goodwin, Bill Golfus, and Walter Brody. Join us next time for another field trip in sound brought to you by The Minnesota School of the Air.

 

The U of M on Your Historic Dial podcast is produced by University Archives for your enjoyment. Subscribe or download on iTunes or GooglePlay so you don’t miss another moment of historic Minnesota radio.

Recordings of the program series Look What We Found were digitized in 2016 in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Rebecca Toov is the collections archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives.

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