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Denis Peirce: Help feed a fellow angler

Many human anglers have a high opinion of their fishing prowess. We like to tell tales of the many fish we catch and how big they were. But in the wider world of fish catchers we pale in comparison to the anglers that have to catch fish daily or starve. No matter the conditions, hot or cold, wet or dry, they have to be on the job. Hunger can be a strong motivator. An injury can be a death sentence.

Last November at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, a sportsman reported an eagle in distress standing in the middle of a flooded field. The bird was soaking wet and in bad shape. Ultimately a Fish & Wildlife officer captured the bald eagle and called the Hamilton Raptor Center in Penn Valley. Owner Mike Furtado drove to Delevan, which is a dozen miles northwest of Colusa, and brought the bird back to Penn Valley.

Based on the white feathers on the head, the bird was a mature adult. Bald eagles do not get their distinctive white head until they are a couple of years old. Upon arrival this bird weighed only six pounds. Compared to a normal weight of 13 to 15 pounds, this eagle was close to expiring.

The problem was a damaged foot/leg. The claws were rolled up tight and would not open. This precluded the eagle from perching in the trees and clutching its prey.

Mike, who has been rehabilitating raptors for 30 years, began working with the animal and ultimately enabled the bird to open its talons and grip a perch off the ground. This physical therapy and steady nutrition has enabled the bird to reach a weight of 11 pounds. It is now flying inside of its 50 by 120 foot flight cage.

The next step in the recovery process is flying on a 300 foot leash. Mike has open ranch land in Penn Valley where he is welcome to flight train his birds. Next week Mike will be flight training this bird. Once it is back up to weight and strong enough to fly well on its leash, it will be driven to the Delevan Refuge and released back to its home habitat.

What Mike needs is food for this and his other fish-eating birds. The ideal fish are trout and kokanee that have not been cleaned. The head and guts have vital nutrients these raptors need. Mike would not turn down filleted fish if that is what you have. Fresh fish are ideal but not practical in many instances.

If you freeze fish for him, packing them individually or in small numbers is the least wasteful option. Mike can then thaw what can be used in the near term. This is not a one time need. Mike takes in 150 to 200 birds of prey each year. Many of them are rodent eaters but fish eaters are frequent residents of the Hamilton Raptor Center. Put their number in your phone and save some fish for them.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com


The Hamilton Raptor Center has been in operation for over 30 years. It is operated by Mike and Lesley Furtado on their ranch in Penn Valley. They typically receive birds from Nevada, Colusa, Butte, Plumas, Sierra, Sutter and Yuba counties. They take referrals from the DF&W and citizens 24/7 365 days a year. The center is staffed by the Furtados and an extensive group of volunteers who have a passion to see birds of prey returned to the wild.

This is a licensed facility funded by donations. Any help will be appreciated and well used.

They can be contacted through:

Hotline: 530-432-9467

Website: http://www.norcalraptors911.org

Email: hamiltonraptorcenter@gmail.com


A bald eagle at the center well into their recovery.
Photo by Lesley Furtado
A bald eagle arrives at the center for care on Nov. 18, 2021.
Photo by Lesley Furtado
Mike Furtado wearing his custom made raptor transporting backpack. The heavy bird rides on the top bar. Mike trains the bird to hop on from the ground when Mike gets on the ground and puts the top bar in front of the bird.
Photo by Denis Peirce

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