Raptor festival draws flocks of bird-watchers to southwest Manitoba
5th annual La Rivière Raptor Festival a chance to form 'personal connection' with birds of prey
Hundreds of birders flocked to the small, southwestern Manitoba town of La Rivière Saturday morning to count migrating hawks, falcons, eagles and owls as they fly north en route for their summer breeding grounds.
"The purpose is to raise awareness about how important birds are to us as humans and how they are indicators of a healthy or a poor environment," said Evelyn Janzen, an organizer with the fifth annual La Rivière Raptor Festival.
La Rivière is situated in the Pembina Valley, about 170 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. It falls inside one of the main flightways for migratory birds of prey heading north to nest every summer. Red tail hawks are especially abundant in the area in the spring, Janzen said.
In 2014, more than 11,300 raptors and 16 species were identified in the area. About 7,720 red tail hawks were spotted that year, as well as almost 1,500 bald eagles. This year on the day of the festival, 11 red tail hawks, five bald eagles, two American kestrels, and a turkey vulture were spotted, Janzen said.
The festival is one part education, one part spectacle. Representatives with the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (PWRC) and Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre had booths and a few feathered friends on hand.
There was at least six winged-wildlife ambassadors on display in the community recreation centre, including an American kestrel, red tail hawk, barn owl and great horned owl.
It just kind of makes you wonder: if you could fly and you had eyes like that, what would you be able to see?- Evelyn Janzen
"When they see these animals, they make that personal connection with them and they care a little bit more about environmental issues," said Heather Mitchell, education co-ordinator with the PWRC. "Raptors are very sensitive to change in their environment, so we can kind of touch on bigger picture issues."
Janzen loves birds, and while she admits she doesn't know much about raptors in particular, she said being mindful of the land and the wildlife it sustains is something rural Manitobans consider second nature.
"It's just part of the way we live out here and so it's important to know," Janzen said.
"You have to be able to look into one of those birds' eyes — it's almost mesmerizing. It's amazing just to see their eyes and look into their eyes. It just kind of makes you wonder: if you could fly and you had eyes like that, what would you be able to see?"
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