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Kate Davis's Passion For Raptors

Meet Kate Davis, a Bitterroot Valley resident who has devoted her life to promoting wildlife conservation and habitat preservation for raptors.

Kate Davis is crazy about raptors. In 1988, she started an educational nonprofit called Raptors of the Rockies, an organization that provides quality care to permanently disabled birds of prey. Stunning photographs of birds, taken by Davis, appear on the Raptors of the Rockies Web site and in the five books she’s published. Her photographs and books have won many awards, including a National Outdoor Book Award and a Montana Book Award. 

Davis’s latest book, American Kestrel: Pint-Sized Predator, contains 100 of her photographs of the tiny hawk. But her interest in hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles goes far beyond photographs. She also lives with them.

Kate Davis:  That’s Sibley. She’s our 12-year-old peregrine. She’s the absolute star of Raptors of the Rockies.

Sibley is one of 18 non-releasable and falconry birds that live in enclosures next to Davis’s house.

Kate Davis
Credit Keith Fialcowitz
Kate Davis with Sibley, a 12-year-old peregrine falcon

KD:  Our location is on the Bitterroot River in Florence. And we have ten acres here and built these eleven enclosures, right in the yard. So it’s easy to keep an eye on the birds—very distracting, too. We have this Bald Eagle nest across the river. I go down every night and photograph it and the three chicks just fledged a week and a half ago. And this is the fourth year they’ve had young and every year, after these young eagles leave the nest, they come over here and they hang out on the eagle building. See over there on the fence? Standing up there? Like waiting to be fed—I don’t feed them—but they’re kind of like checking out our three eagles and then there’s a kestrel in the background saying hey beat it! The kestrels attack them every night. And these giant Bald eagles are just scared to death of the kestrel.

Kestrels are about the size of robins. No wonder Ben Franklin lobbied against designating the Bald Eagle as our national symbol. Inside the eagle building—a huge wire enclosure with shade netting stretched across one corner—three male birds stand on long branches. We open the gate and step inside… The eagles don’t seem to notice.

KD:  We have these two Golden eagles. Max is twenty-six and he’s been in captivity all his life. He has brain damage, due to what I think was starvation when he was young. And then Nigel is twenty years old and he was shot in the wingtip when he was four or five. And then we have Sonny, the bald eagle. We don’t know his age. And he’s kind of a display bird. I don’t take him out for programs. I do about fifty—I’ve done as many as eighty programs in a year.

Education programs are the mainstay of Raptors of the Rockies, and adhering to state and federal regulations is required and complicated.

KD:  These birds actually are on four permits. The first permit is rehabilitation. The second permit is a possession permit and that’s what all the hawks and the owls are on—birds that were hit by cars or have some kind of vision problem. Then I have also Eagle Exhibition. That’s what these three birds are on. And I also have a falconry permit and three birds are on that. So it’s all pretty strict and I say don’t try this at home—I always say that. This is really strictly regulated by both the federal government and the state.
Each bird is required to participate in twelve education programs a year, either on the property or somewhere else.

KD:  I do lots of assemblies for schools. I do K through 5, now. And lots of programs for grownups and the public and banquets and keynotes and I have a big PowerPoint I play, with about ninety slides. And then I bring birds.

Davis and her birds travel around the country to promote wildlife conservation and habitat preservation for raptors, a mission she’s been at for twenty-eight years. And she’s likely to be at it for a while longer.

KD:  The eagles can live to be around forty. Yeah, so this is a long-term job here. I don’t see retirement in my future, and that’s fine with me ‘cause this is a pleasure. There’s that Bald Eagle soaring around over the river now. Max is telling us Go away!

Credit Kate Davis
Two Bald eagles, perched on a snag above the Bitterroot River

Read the Raptor Blog

Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at PRX.org and MTPR.org.
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