Rehabilitated birds of prey set to fly into the wild this weekend

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The University of Minnesota Raptor Center plans to release some of its big birds into the wild on Saturday as part of the center's 40th anniversary celebration.

The raptor center, which specializes in rehabilitating sick and injured birds of prey, has cared for more than 16,000 birds from across the country over its four decades in operation, including owls, eagles and falcons, KSTP reports.

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Raptors in Minnesota

Over the last 40 years, the populations of various carnivorous birds, also known as "raptors," – species like peregrine falcons and bald eagles – have stabilized, thanks in part to the efforts of the center. Just this year, center staff helped rehabilitate about 580 birds, WCCO reports, along with training veterinarians from more than two dozen countries around the world.

One of the center's most notable recent patients was a snowy owl that appeared in downtown Washington, D.C. earlier this year, quickly becoming a local celebrity. When it was hit by a city bus in March, the Raptor Center swooped in to save the injured owl, who eventually made a full recovery and returned to the wild. Unfortunately, its body was discovered in Minnesota last month, apparently struck by another vehicle.

Although environmentalists have made a lot of progress in endangered bird populations over the years, experts at the Minnesota Raptor Center say there's still a lot of unexpected perils for birds of prey living in an urban or suburban environment.

Director Julia Ponder told the Star Tribune the birds of prey can often be drawn to dangerous roadsides while hunting animals who are eating food discarded by drivers. Hunters mostly know not to hunt the majestic birds, she told the paper, but they can sometimes suffer lead poisoning after eating dead rodents who were shot.

Click on the Raptor Center's Facebook page for more information about the raptor-release event at the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings. The event is open to the public and will include apple picking, hay rides, and educational sessions with live raptors.

For a preview of what's to come on Saturday, check out the Raptor Center's video of the rehabilitated D.C. snowy owl's return to the wild:

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