MISSION - Heads turned as spring break brought a visit by wild birds of prey to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on Tuesday afternoon.
The birds and their audience traded stares as each species watched the other intently during a show-and-tell session in the institute's round entryway. The birds clutched their mesh-covered PVC pipe perches while small children and grownups pressed their hands on the benches as they leaned forward from their half-moon seating arrangement.
Lynn and Bill Tompkins brought "Eddy," a peregrine falcon; "Ruby," a red-tailed hawk; and "Sage," a great-horned owl, to show during one of their regular lectures on the Umatilla reservation. The couple founded and operate the Pendleton-based nonprofit group Blue Mountain Wildlife that cares for orphaned, sick or injured wildlife. They help mostly birds.
Susan Sheoships, education coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said spring break marks one of three annual visits the wildlife group makes to the institute.
The Tompkins will return at the end of April and during the national "Tent of Many Horses" Lewis and Clark exhibit in August. The tribes' Wildhorse Foundation board approved a $10,000 grant Feb. 22 in support of Blue Mountain's work.
"They are a worthy organization and one that we have funded in the past as well," said Charles Denight, public relations manager for the Wildhorse Resort and Casino.
The foundation funds grant requests from community groups in the northeast Oregon counties of Umatilla, Morrow, Wallowa and Union annually. That money for the wildlife rehabilitation center will go a long way toward the costs of keeping the birds, which includes buying food, said Bob Tompkins. The tab runs about $15,000 a year of menu selections for birds, rats, snakes and mice.
"We've been trying to grow the mice colony so we don't have to buy as many," Lynn Tompkins said. "The birds can eat as many as 1,000 mice a month."
Tompkins spouted off facts such as these and more while she explained the birds' individual hunting habits and lifestyles at the lecture. Because of injuries or "imprinting" by contact with humans, Eddy, Ruby and Sage will not return to the wild, but live their lives out in captivity.
The center does rehabilitate some birds to be returned to the wild, but not all.
"Usually half ( of the birds ) that come in die or have to be euthanized," Tompkins said.
In 2004, Blue Mountain admitted 215 birds and 53 percent were released. Tompkins said that was the center's highest release rate since she and her husband began working with the birds 17 years ago.
The couple use the educational programs to increase knowledge about the animals among the public. The birds visited more than 10,000 people in 2004 through these programs.
The center expanded its reach three years ago when it began offering rehabilitation seminars. Tompkins said such seminars had been offered years previously by Washington State University's spring veterinarian seminars but the college stopped doing so.
This April, Blue Mountain will host its third annual class to focus on how to treat wounds and handle raptors.
Blue Mountain Wildlife facts
Based in Pendleton
Treats and rehabilitates orphaned, sick or injured wildlife, primarily birds.
Their education birds met more than 10,000 people in 2004.
Food budget for birds costs $15,000 each year.
Admitted 215 birds in 2004, released 53 percent of them.
Upcoming Events: Third Annual Wildlife Rehabilitation Seminar, April 23; appearance at Umatilla tribes' "Salmon, Horses and Hospitality" event the end of April.