By Matthew Stoffel
Maggie Engler says she’s always been fascinated by birds.
“I think that birds are universal. It’s something that almost everyone can be interested in because they’re everywhere.”
Maggie will be representing the raptor center on Saturday at Outdoor University in Sertoma Park, along with four birds of prey. A red-phase Eastern screech owl, an American kestrel, a great-horned owl and a Ferruginous hawk will all make the journey from the Rapid City area to Sioux Falls.
The four raptors and Maggie will be doing two shows on Saturday for Outdoor University, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Audience members will have the rare opportunity to be within mere feet of these extraordinary creatures.
For Maggie, spreading the experience is fun, but also means a lot of work.
“They have to be with me at all times, or they have to be in a secured room,” she says. “I function as their caretaker and the one who protects them from harm, and I take that role very seriously.”
Both Maggie and the birds have undergone training to appear in presentations like the ones that will occur Saturday. Maggie herself had to log several hours working under a mentor, pass an exam and verify her ability to provide housing, food and healthcare for the birds of prey.
Just as Maggie had to get used to the raptors, they’ve needed to get used to her and people in general. Each of Black Hills Raptor Center’s birds are in some way not releasable into the wild, but also had to learn to be handled with a tether and glove, travel in a crate and adapt to camera flashes, loud noises, and people watching them eat.
“Every bird is different,” Maggie says. “You try the thing first that worked in the past, but they have to have the personality that can handle [performance].”
Maggie has brought birds to Outdoor University before, and the live raptors have been a crowd favorite. She hopes that birds can continue to find a connection with people.
“If I could get people to grasp one thing, it would be how absolutely essential birds of prey are to humans. We are linked and it’s a strong link. Birds of prey make our planet healthier and safer for humans.”
And you can find out exactly how at either 10:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 3rd at Outdoor University in Sertoma Park, Sioux Falls.