Our team in ‪#‎Omaha‬ swoops in & celebrates the new $2 million Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska.

by DWS Blogger | Feb 01, 2016
Our team in ‪#‎Omaha‬ swoops in & celebrates the new $2 million Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska. In partnership with JE Dunn Construction & Altus Architectural Studios, our company fabricated the steel for this one-of-a-kind ‪#‎Nebraska‬ project.

Here's the scoop on the full story from our friends at the Omaha World-Herald:

Fontenelle Forest is spreading its wings and swooping into new territory with its birds of prey.

Construction begins in a few weeks on a more than $2 million display in Bellevue that will feature an elevated boardwalk trail amid burr oaks and hackberries, with views of treehouse cages for eagles, hawks, owls and other raptors.

Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest is scheduled to open this fall. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Monday.

A major gift from Susan and George Haddix of Omaha is funding the display. Other significant gifts came from the Claire M. Hubbard Foundation, Gerry and Bruce Lauritzen of Omaha and Betsy and Doug Finch of Elmwood, Nebraska.

Susan Haddix and Gerry Lauritzen are Fontenelle Forest directors. George Haddix and the Lauritzens are honorary trustees. Betsy Finch is Fontenelle Forest’s raptor rehabilitation manager.

Laura Shiffermiller, executive director of Fontenelle Forest, said the raptor display will be nationally unique.

“We’re using the forest environment around us to create an experience that simultaneously entertains and educates people,’’ she said. “It’ll be a walk through the forest, only at a higher level.’’

The half-acre site is directly south of Fontenelle Forest’s nature center at 1111 Bellevue Boulevard North. It will include 14 screened cages, known in the birding world as mews. The enclosures will eventually house 23 birds representing 17 raptor species common to Nebraska.

Other than two modified corn crib mews, all the mews will feature whimsical, cabin-like designs with timber logs — matching the nearby nature center — and cedar siding and cedar shake roofing. One of the mews will be large enough for its two bald eagle occupants to fly.

Six treehouse mews will be placed along a 120-foot boardwalk that will arc off a ridge and into the forest, placing birds and people more than 30 feet above the sloping forest floor.

Each cabin/treehouse will have a screened porch with a perch for the birds. Screening on three sides and the top will permit visitors easy observation and give the birds access to breezes, sun, rain and snow.

The display will be open year-round. When raptors retreat into climate-controlled cabins for shelter in extreme cold, they will be visible behind windows.

The designs are the work of Mike Hamilton of Altus Architectural Studios in Omaha. JE Dunn Construction of Omaha is the contractor.

Shiffermiller said the display will not only give visitors greater opportunities to see birds of prey up close, but also allow naturalists to tell the story of rehabilitating ailing raptors and engage visitors’ imaginations.

“We want people to understand why these amazing animals are in these cages,’’ she said. “It’s because they can’t live in the wild anymore. They’re here to teach people about how we can protect all the other birds in the wild.’’

Fontenelle Forest currently has five raptors on public view in little enclosures along the current boardwalk outside the nature center. These birds will retire to a soon-to-be-renovated garage designed to accommodate only birds used in education programs.

A landscaped stone and wood wall rising to 12 feet will separate the raptor area from the nature center’s parking lot. The project includes constructing a dedicated bus lane in the parking lot to accommodate vehicles ferrying 40,000 school children to the site every year.

Fontenelle Forest is one of Nebraska’s oldest conservation organizations and one of the nation’s largest private nature centers. Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue and Neale Woods in Omaha preserve nearly 2,000 acres of forest, prairie and wetlands along the Missouri River. Two years ago, Fontenelle Forest acquired Raptor Recovery, a nonprofit organization based near Elmwood, that cared for injured and orphaned predatory birds. The deal broadened Fontenelle Forest’s horizons and kept Raptor Recovery’s program flying.

Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery is a statewide operation and the only organization in Nebraska with state and federal permits to rehabilitate orphaned or injured predatory birds.

Its Elmwood treatment center currently houses about 70 birds, many of which were injured in collisions with vehicles or electrical wires. Some of the birds suffer from lead poisoning. Some have been shot, despite federal law strictly protecting raptors.

Once restored to health, the birds are banded and, if possible, released. As of June 17, Raptor Recovery had admitted 226 injured or ill birds this year. Seventy-nine were returned to the wild and 61 remained in care. Eighty-six died.

In some cases, birds cannot be returned to the wild because severe injuries or illnesses leave them unable to fly or hunt.

When possible, nonreleasable birds are routed into breeding programs, recruited as foster parents for young orphans, used in research or added to the roster of “education birds’’ taken to schools and other places to increase awareness of raptors.

Birds on view in the new display will not be the same ones used in off-site education programs. Display birds will be selected for their temperament and ability to tolerate daily proximity to people, Shiffermiller said. They will not leave their cages.

Shiffermiller said Fontenelle Forest officials realized when the organization took Raptor Recovery under its wing that it needed to optimize the education and display birds to generate cash. Rehabilitating birds brings in no money.

“We knew we would have to build an area where we could display birds, create revenue and increase our education program,’’ she said.

The raptor display is part of Fontenelle Forest’s goal to develop a more visible regional and national profile.

To learn more, check out: http://ow.ly/WU7nU