Fallen tree destroys raptor enclosures, kills owls in Conway

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 03-02-2023 10:51 AM

CONWAY — Even those who are driven to help others sometimes need help. Just ask raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi, whose bird enclosures were recently ravaged by a fallen pine tree.

According to Ricardi, the tree tore through one of the property’s cages and “flattened” another “pretty substantially” after the tree was uprooted during a storm earlier this month. One saw-whet owl and two great horned owls were killed as a result, while one peregrine falcon had to be moved to a different enclosure. Hefty tree removal costs have prompted Ricardi to accept donations as he pursues the completion of facility repairs by early summer.

Ricardi, who has been rescuing birds of prey for more than 50 years, currently houses 60 raptors inside roughly 30 enclosures at his Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center in Conway. Costs to operate the facility, funded mostly out of Ricardi’s pocket, have been recently soared  with rising prices, he said last spring. This most recent hurdle adds to a string of obstacles Ricardi has had to face financially, including funding necessary facility repairs and buying food for the birds.

After getting an initial cost estimate of roughly $10,000 for tree removal, Ricardi got a second opinion from Northampton’s Cotton Tree Service, who he hired to do the work. He expects the company to remove the fallen tree, as well as some surrounding trees at risk of falling, within the next couple weeks.

Ricardi then intends to work alongside volunteers to repair the damaged cages in hopes of getting the facility back to normal in another couple months. As of Tuesday, he noted multiple lumber companies have reached out offering to donate lumber, and the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange offered its assistance with supplies.

While the fallen tree might not have a major impact on his operations, Ricardi’s enclosures have been growing increasingly cramped and more space would be ideal, he said. His center has been in strong demand this year, with Ricardi noting he has been called to rescue a raptor practically “every day.”

“This year, I’m picking up a lot of birds,” he said. “A lot of barred owls that are starving and I’m kind of scratching my head as to what’s going on.”

Ricardi said he has rescued 38 birds of prey since Jan. 1, whereas through the entirety of 2022, he rescued 165. He attributed this to last year’s drought, hypothesizing that dwindled populations further down the food chain have resulted in raptors moving from forest to forest in search of food. This, he said, may have translated to hawks and owls traversing local highways more frequently and getting hit by vehicles in the process.

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Those interested in donating to Ricardi and the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center can send a check or money order to the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center, P.O. Box 26, Conway, MA 01341. The facility is a nonprofit and contributions are tax-deductible.

Additionally, an online GoFundMe page is available at bit.ly/3J4o0Po.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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