Home to roost

Putting wind beneath the wings of Montana’s rescued raptors

November 15, 2001

Kate Davis, founder and executive director of “Raptors of the Rockies,” has been married for 12 years and hasn’t had a honeymoon yet. After 13 challenging years perched at a less-than-ideal location in Clinton, she says the “Raptors of the Rockies” new location in the Bitterroot Valley is enough of a honeymoon for her, her husband Tom, and their birds.

Although Davis says it took some of the birds time to adjust to their new, sunnier location, they are now all thriving. Formerly housed in chicken coops and goat pens, these new enclosures constructed specifically to protect the raptors from the elements have shade cloth, birdbaths and padded perches—a far cry from the coops in Clinton that failed to protect them against predators. Over the years Davis lost numerous birds, including a lot of kestrels, and one northern saw-whet owl.

“I miss nothing about the old place,” Davis says. “It was like an old log house, with lots of little chinks in the logs. Things could slip through and eat my birds.”

Davis’ current brood includes 19 types of birds, including golden eagles, hawks, owls, a northern harrier, an American kestrel, a merlin, a prairie falcon, and a white gyre falcon, many of which she has cared for since they were fledglings. Each bird has a war story: Some were hit by vehicles or trains, others made contact with power lines, still others were poisoned. Davis hopes to eventually phase out the rehabilitation portion of her program, finding it too heartbreaking to euthanize the endless string of birds people bring to her with broken legs, compound fractures, and cracked skulls.

To the birds, Davis is a mother. She nurtures, disciplines, encourages, and protects. She knows each bird intimately, predicting when it will leave its roost and where it may be hiding, even when they’re well-camouflaged and perched in the trees. She is proud of her birds and tells them so, despite the intricate bird mess on the wall that she has proudly named the “Van Gogh.”

“Everybody thinks this is Fish, Wildlife and Parks or something, but it’s just all mine,” says Davis. “I do all the paperwork, and bookkeeping, and cleaning, and building, and feeding, and butchering, and programs, and driving and writing.”

Davis gets up every morning at 7 and cares for her birds, preparing them a breakfast of quail or mice, carefully warmed up in the microwave.

“All these things started when I was 13,” she recalls. “Doing the bird shows, the rehab, the taxidermy, and the artwork, all in one year, when I started at the Cincinnati Zoo with the Junior Zoologists Club.” Davis likes to educate schoolchildren about birds, regularly presenting her raptors across the region. “I don’t have any kids,” she says, “so they are my kids.”

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