IN ancient cultures it’s said the eagle is the connection between heaven and earth, its wingtips brushing the face of the creator as it soars.
At Fitzroy Falls, one woman has built a rare haven to protect and sustain our region’s mighty birds of prey.
Driven by her passion and great respect for the birds she calls the “athletes of the sky”, Peggy McDonald has established Australasia’s only raptor rehabilitation centre on her highlands property.
More than 700 birds have passed through her care.
It could be a peregrine falcon that’s been hit by a car, a powerful owl tangled in barbed wire, boo-book owl chicks flung out of a felled tree or a wedge-tailed eagle with one foot caught in a rabbit trap.
A number of the birds coming into Peggy’s care have also been shot.
In a full house talk at Fitzroy Falls Visitors Centre, Peggy explained that even the slightest injury to raptors, who rely on their great strength, speed and precision to hunt, can be fatal.
“Birds of prey need 100 per cent fitness to survive in the wild,” she said.
“A broken feather, a slight loss of sight, the slight drop of a wing can mean they lose their ability to hunt and could starve to death.
“These birds need split second timing. Owls must be able to fly silently, kestrels need to hover for long periods with absolute precision, eagles must be able to spot their prey from great distances. They all need strong chest muscles to power their flight.”
Peggy’s interest in rehabilitating raptors has grown over the past 25 years from her work as a WIRES volunteer and has taken her to the United Arab Emirates to further her research and practical skills.
From a childhood in Sydney helping her father rehabilitate snakes and lizards, she began to discover “how remarkable, intelligent and emotional birds are, and none more so than the raptors”.
Peggy cares for between 40 and 60 birds per year and her own purpose built rehabilitation aviary was inspired by the ones she saw when studying and working at the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
The aviary has been built through her own fund-raising and the assistance of local tradespeople, and now receives injured raptors from all over NSW, including from Taronga Zoo.
The huge circular aviary means the birds can practise their flying “without seeing an end point” to allow them to build their endurance prior to release.
Peggy said our region has a very rich variety of birds of prey, including the endangered powerful owl and masked owl.
Species include kites, eagles, falcons, owls, hawks and kestrels and the threats to them are mostly man-made.
Many are hit by cars, shot, caught in rabbit traps and electric fences, not to mention falling victim to the “great enemy of wildlife”, barbed wire.
“When a raptor comes into care a bond is formed that’s very hard to explain,” Peggy said.
On release, she sometimes experiences the “indescribable joy” of having the bird circle around her for a few moments before catching a wind current and flying off.
Releasing the birds back into the wild is always the high point for Peggy, who still marvels at the great intuition and intelligence of these birds.
“It’s important to get birds back into their own territory as soon as possible.
“It’s as if they know. They have a strange ability to know when they are close to home,” she said.
“It’s a joy to be able to help these birds, they are the great athletes of the sky.”
Read more and see a video of Peggy releasing a wedge-tailed eagle HERE.
Peggy’s work is supported solely by donations and fundraising. If you would like to make a donation to the raptor rehabilitation centre, please contact Sally Flew at Fitzroy Falls Visitors Centre on 48 87 7270.