Meet the Birds

This page will introduce you to Indiana Raptor Center’s education ambassadors; you will learn how special they are, how they came to live here, and how they help us teach the public about their important role in the environment, and in our economic lives through rodent control. It’s truly rewarding to see the connections these avian souls make with the community. Please take a moment to learn their stories. We offer tours of our facilities as well; please see our current tour information.

Resident Education Ambassadors



Elmo the Barred Owl, photographed by Joni James
Elmo arrived in 2009 at the age of about 2 weeks. Another baby arrived a week later and they were raised together as cohorts, meaning that they each had a constant conspecific (same species) companion to help them grow up knowing that they were owls and not people. Unfortunately Elmo had spent some considerable time with his finders, which we did not find out until his behavior became different than that of the other owl in his company. Elmo exhibited symptoms of mal-imprinting, that is to say, he had spent critical growth time being inappropriately handled and played with by humans, so to this day he is not entirely sure that he is an owl. His cage mate was successfully released later in 2009, but it is illegal to release mal-imprinted raptors into the wild due to their tendency to seek out human mates. Therefore Elmo resides with us and is trained as an education program bird. Elmo is very intelligent and we are able to play structured games with him – he is also broody and perhaps should have been named Hamlet, but he was named for his big eyes and furry feathers instead.



Moonshine was confiscated in 2010 from a possible meth lab location. She had been handled and treated like a pet parrot, and was possibly damaged from chemical fumes. It took us a while to convince her that she was really an owl, and she, like Elmo, is non-releasable because of her situation. However she is a wonderful education ambassador. Her compromise situation is a housing cage up over the back yard of the center, where she can both look down on the activities of local birds, deer, and other critters without feeling threatened, and can still see in some windows to be sure we are still around. She does duet with local wild barreds, so we know that she has reached some sort of balance in her life and can continue to help us educate people on the wonders of raptors along with the illegality and consequences of trying to tame wild birds as pets.  Barred owls are strictly woodland birds, and feed on everything from small reptiles and amphibians to small mammals, birds, and fish. Like all owls, they fly silently due to having soft feathers, they have black and white night vision, and they can hear in 3-D due to their skull structure. They also live near small forest ponds and creeks. They are indicators of environmental health because they are so general in their needs. Their presence indicates a healthy forest.



Simon the American KestrelSimon is a wonderful little American Kestrel who also was confiscated from people who kept him as a pet. He was caged for 18 months from a nestling, and came to us with serious metabolic bone disease from an improper diet low in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. We received Simon in 2013; it was not until the summer of 2014 that we were able to handle him for education because he finally had enough bone density to prevent breakage. Simon is now greeting guests at the InRC. He is named for the British arborist who comes twice a year to trim trees that might endanger our cages and flight pens. Simon the kestrel will be going on road trips soon with the other education ambassadors!



Digby the American KestrelDigby is a beautiful little American Kestrel female who is quite the warrior. She came to the InRC in 2008 as a chick, and is blind in one eye from birth or an early accident. She is non-releasable due to her partial blindness, but holds court in a large enclosure where she is comfortable in free flight and fosters baby kestrels for us during the summer months. She teaches them to fly and hunt, and she misses them for a while when they are released. She helps educate the public over the winter because the American Kestrel is the only North American raptor with sexual dimorphism being present from the first coat of feathers (male and female have different feather patterns) but is ready for a new brood each spring, and lays (infertile) eggs to let us know that baby intake season is just around the corner!



Mirren is a Peregrine Falcon that came to us from an abatement company in Oregon. Abatement is the practice of flying falcons or hawks over cropland, orchards or vineyards to deter crop damage from other animals such as rats, mice, and birds.  The falcons and hawks do not actually hunt but fly to defend the territory and frighten off potential prey animals.

Mirren was born blind but over time her sight developed to the point where she could be flown in an abatement program, and she did well.  But after a few years her flight became hesitant, and she would only go up about 30 feet or so.  The belief is that she became afraid to fly due to being short-sighted. She was retired and the company looked for a permanent home for her in an education program.

A few facts about peregrines –

  • They take all their prey in flight
  • They can dive (stoop) at over 240 mph and dive in a corkscrew motion
  • When diving they steer themselves with the feathers on their bellies, wings folded in
  • They can spot their prey from up to 6 miles away
  • Their eyes (the corneas) are coated with gel to keep them protected from sand and dirt in the air, as at the speeds they fly, small particle impact could explode their eyes
  • They have very long toes for grabbing prey out of the air
  • They have baffles in their sinuses to slow down air so that they can still breathe while flying
  • They are prized the world over as falconry birds

Also – this bird was originally named Helen Keller by the owners due to her sight issues.  But when she came here we were charmed by both her dignity and her playful sassiness, and so we renamed her for that memorable and outstanding actress, Dame Helen Mirren.



Taki the Eurasian Eagle OwlTaklamakan, or Taki for short, is a Eurasian Eagle Owl, an exotic (non-native) breed who was bred in captivity for educational purposes at World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, MO. We have had Taki since she was 8 weeks old, and she is now 11 years old. The Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest owl species in the world. Its native range stretches from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Central Asia Republics down into India. Like the Golden Eagle, this species is prized by nomadic tribes in Central Asia as a hunting bird, and is hunted on animals as large as deer and wolves. The pressure on the end of each of their 8 talons is 450 lb/sq in, so they are formidable predators. As you can see they look like – and are indeed related to – our Great Horned Owls, except they are larger and have pumpkin-orange eyes. Taki lives as an exhibit bird with some educational trips afield. She lays infertile eggs every spring and is very protective of her nest. And we respect that! Because her eggs never hatch, she has some enrichment toys – stuffed dog toys with no fringe or strings or anything that can get her into trouble. She does not chew these up, but actually carries them around and sometimes nests them. She is named for the legendarily impassable Taklamakan desert located in Western China along the ancient Silk Road – a rough translation of which is “if you go in, you won’t come out.”



Mowgli is a female Great Horned Owl that was accidentally mal-imprinted on humans by another rehabber. She was transferred to us to be an education ambassador. Because she is such a hard mal-imprint, she has attached herself to one of our volunteers, Domonic Potorti (see his profile under “staff”). She believes him to be her mate and is jealous of his attention to other people or birds. This is a good example of the danger that can ensue from the release of a bird having this condition, however, while it is a shame that she cannot pursue her normal, wild life, she is relatively easy for him to handle and makes a wonderful education ambassador. Mowgli was named for the little boy in The Jungle Book, as she was raised and greatly influenced by a species other than her own. Born in 2008, she is a very healthy and large owl, having been fed quality food and vitamins ever since she was a hatchling. Great Horned Owls are called the “Tigers of the Sky” – they are strong warriors that are the only natural enemy of skunks.  GHOs live near the edges of open spaces such as fields and prairies. They are open area hunters and are adaptable to climate, living from the Arctic down through temperate climates all the way to the furthest tip of South America. We sometimes refer to GHOs as the 18-wheelers of the raptor world. Their talons can deliver 450 pounds of pressure per square inch!



Piper and Ben, Bald EaglesBen is a Bald Eagle that came to us from World Bird Sanctuary in 2002. She was shot in Kansas in 1996 and sustained a non-reparable wing injury. She already had her white head and was not banded, so we are not sure how old she is. Estimates are around 24-28 years old. She weighs 9 lbs, so is smaller than Bald Eagles living in Alaska, which can reach up to 20 lbs. She can eat about a ½ lb of food a day, her favorites being Canadian Walleye or Rainbow Trout. Her cage-mate Piper is the same size and has the same tastes in food. Piper was hit by an 18-wheeler in Michigan; she, like Ben, sustained wing injuries that make her non-releasable. Piper is a younger female, banded in 2001. Piper still lays non-fertile eggs, and Ben helps her build the nest and set and guard the eggs. We are not allowed to breed eagles in captivity, but since both eagles are female, they are not in danger of producing young, and so are allowed to set the eggs until they complete their hormonal cycles. In addition to her wing injury, Piper sustained an injury to her chest which keeps her from making the complete eagle call that Ben uses to greet visitors. Instead, Piper has a gentle, pan-flute call, hence her name. The feathers that these birds shed are sent annually to the National Eagle Repository in Boulder, CO for distribution to Native Americans for use in sacred rituals.



Fallon is a new addition to our center. A 7lb Bald Eagle born in 2012, he dislocated his right wing at an early age. Such soft tissue injuries are not reparable. The initial damage plus scar tissue do not allow complete rotation, hence such birds do not have complete freedom of movement and are non-releasable. The center that took him in as a patient told us that he is mischievous and likes to play tricks and with toys; couple that with our desire to name him something familiar to people, and you get the name! He will not have his white head and tail for a few more years, but by then will already be a pro at ambassadorship. He is progressing quickly in training, vocalizes with people, and responds to his name. In addition to education, we hope to train him to appear at funerals for fallen law enforcement officers and firemen, and to perhaps help send off and return troops at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana.


Bald Eagle

C-14 is a 32-year old Bald Eagle that came to Indiana Raptor Center as a patient with a dislocated shoulder from a truck accident. The shoulder was not reparable but did form a false joint that allows her to get around in her enclosure, but not to fly free. She has settled into her new home like a Grande Dame in a fancy hotel, is very chatty with our staff, and enjoys the view from her enclosure. We know her exact age because she was part of the Eagle Release Program in 1987 at Lake Monroe IN the goal of which was to hopefully restore the Bale Eagle population in Indiana. As of 2020 there are now 300 eagle nests in the state. Based on her band records, C-14 left Indiana in her youth and wandered to New York then returned home to western IN where she raised 3 chicks a year for several years, 2 in normal years. She was a good mother and is now a happy retiree still showing no signs of arthritis in her damaged shoulder. When animals are banded for release they are usually referred to by their number, hence her name which has stuck with her over the years. One of the IN-DNR officers who recently retired actually released C-14 into the program back in 1987 – he comes sometimes to visit and feed her and she still recognizes him!


Red Tail Hawk

Kona is a 3 year old male Red-tailed Hawk that was brought here as a juvenile with a wing injury.  One thing we can do to help first year red-tails survive is to pair them with a falconer after they are raised, or healed from their illness or injury.  These people work with the birds to ensure that they develop optimal hunting skills prior to release. Because the birds are almost adults by this time, they are well past the age where they can be mal-imprinted by interaction with people, so the bird learns from the falconer and then is released knowing that it is fit to care for itself, a mate, and a family.  Kona has shown the ability to fly for short distances, but could not maintain longer flights or maneuver properly to catch his own food.   Kona returned to the Indiana Raptor Center as an education ambassador.  The falconer thought his chest coloring resembled drops of coffee and named him after an especially tasty coffee bean.



Zulu the African Augur BuzzardZulu, received from World Bird Sanctuary by Laura Edmunds in 1997, is also an exotic, non-native bird. She is an African Augur Buzzard, otherwise casually known as the “Red-tailed Hawk of Africa.” Because these birds are mountain dwellers (flying as high as 17,000 ft), her wings are much longer and deeper than those of a Red-tailed Hawk, and cross over her tail, which is a maroon red. Augur buzzards are often used to portray Red-tailed Hawks in movies and commercials, since native species cannot be legally used in the US to promote for-profit business. Zulu was hatched from the first brood of this species in the US. Her parents were confiscated from bird smugglers in South America. She is not used for breeding because she is double jointed and would not be good for the gene pool. However she is a magnificent ambassador. Her preferred human – or more accurately her only preferred human – is our education director, Laura Edmunds. Zulu disdains all other people and especially anyone wearing brown shoes, though no one knows why.



Mariah is a 30+ year old Golden Eagle from Utah.  She was not banded so our estimate of her age is based on physical characteristics such as condition of her feet, her beak and cere, and the concentration of speckles in her irises that appear in much older birds.  She transferred here to participate in our education program, but her injuries from a truck impact not only included a non-reparable wing injury, but a severe concussion and partial blindness.  It took her a long time to recover and acclimate, but now she is well accommodated and perhaps has enjoyed moving from the dry desert of the West to the leafy, shady environment of the Midwest.  One can only imagine what she has seen out in that western territory – the storms, the animals, the movement of people over time, the great stone buttes and plateaus.  Like Stormy, her younger counterpart, she would have been a mammal hunter and could have taken antelope in her prime.  Goldens hunt by flying past their prey and then coming back low to the ground, following the terrain for surprise attack.  They do not dive the way Bald Eagles do on fish.   For those wondering, she is named after the West Wind, as described in the song “Mariah” from the Broadway play “Paint your Wagon”.



Brandeau the MerlinOur first Merlin, Brandeau arrived at Indiana Raptor Center in December 2014. He is a handsome, snappy little falcon, smaller than a peregrine, but larger than an American kestrel, and is still wearing juvenile plumage (see his photo, and check out the swept back stripes on his head). He came here from Washington State University in Pullman, WA and is non-releasable due to a dislocation of the right elbow. Soft tissue injuries like this are non-reparable and tend to develop non-removable scar tissue in the joints, so he is left with incomplete extension of his right wing, making it impossible to fly like a healthy falcon should in order to hunt. He had some training while in his former home, so has settled right in and made himself at home with us. He loves an audience, is curious about people, and so will start to appear at programs in spring 2015.

Meadow and Tatooine

Barn Owl

Tattooine, a barn owl, poses on Domonic Potorti's glove.


Meadow and Tatooine are both American Barn Owls. They came to us from a breeder in West Virginia who raises them for use in education, at zoos, etc. This makes it possible to have these birds in captivity without taking any from the endangered wild population. Tatooine, named for Luke Skywalker’s home planet in the Star Wars movies, is the oldest at 5, and Meadow is only about 2. Meadow’s name has a couple of sources – the fact that barn owls do a lot of meadow/field hunting for mice and voles, and the other – Tony Soprano’s daughter! We obtained each of them at 8 weeks of age and raised them here. They are dual imprints, which means they are comfortable around humans but will still live with and get along with other owls.
Barn owls are indeed endangered in Indiana. We see several each year as patients, both adults and nestlings. We try to place the adults back in their previous territory, but any nestlings raised in captivity go to a territory picked out by the IN-DNR as part of their work to study and increase the population of barn owls in Indiana. Barn owls are mostly found south of Indianapolis but are gradually moving north as the climate warms. Their feathers are not as dense as Great Horned, Barred or Screech Owls, so they tend to be more plentiful in the southern states. There were more barn owls in Indiana during pioneer days, and we think that perhaps the many ghost stories originating in the Midwest are based on sightings of these pale white birds that take advantage of hay barns or abandoned buildings whenever they can to safely shelter and raise their families.