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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fixed up and ready to fly

A sawhet  owl, cradled   by Cindy Frantz before its release Friday,  had a broken wing before it was rehabilitated by Birds of Prey Northwest, a volunteer organization. 
 (Photos by JESSE TINSLEY / The Spokesman-Review)

Raptor biologist Jane Cantwell opened the tailgate of her truck Friday morning and was greeted by a pair of bright yellow eyes.

The little sawhet owl, barely taller than a can of soda, blinked out of a pet carrier into the morning sunlight, unaware that a second chance was imminent.

Two hawks were also in the truck, angrily awaiting their release from secure boxes.

Cantwell and a group of volunteers from her organization, Birds of Prey Northwest, of St. Maries, had nursed the raptors back to health during the past three months. The sawhet owl had been found with a broken wing in the parking lot of an Olive Garden restaurant. The sharp-shinned hawk came in with a fractured leg bone. The red-tailed hawk had an injured shoulder.

Friday morning brought the moment the birds and their caretakers had been waiting for: release.

First the birds were given leg bands. Then they were placed in the hands of volunteers, who had been instructed by Cantwell to toss them gently skyward “like an underhanded basketball throw.”

The owl pecked and at its handler’s hands. The sharp-shinned hawk shrieked and fluttered its long tail. The red-tailed hawk stretched her wings, flexed her needle-like talons and stuck out her pink tongue.

“This is the last thing a mouse or a rabbit sees,” Cantwell joked.

Under a special federal permit, Cantwell cares for injured eagles, hawks, owls, ravens and falcons from across the Inland Northwest. Most, including the owl, are struck by vehicles. Although many are too injured to be returned to the wild, about half eventually fly free again, including the three birds Friday morning.

The release took place just a few wing beats above the new Falcon Ridge housing development overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene. Cantwell chose the site not for its name but for its high perch over the surrounding area.

“It’s downhill pretty much all the way from here,” she said.

After being set free, the owl fluttered off into a thicket of evergreens, the red-tailed hawk flapped its way to a perch in a nearby spruce tree, and the sharp-shinned hawk rocketed away into the blue July morning.