For the Birds


My first contact with a raptor rescue group was during the early fall of 2007, when I happened upon a badly injured Eastern Screech owl in my yard. Several phone calls to local wildlife agencies led me to a Raptor Recovery Nebraska (RRN) volunteer, who appeared in my driveway within an hour to transport the little guy to a rehabilitation facility in Elmwood, Neb. She promised to call me with an update on his condition.

Two days later she phoned with the news that, despite aggressive antibiotics to treat what turned out to be wounds from a cat attack, the “screechie” died. To soften the blow, however, the volunteer told me that she had two rehabilitated screechie babies that the group would like to release at my house. Despite how long we had lived in our neighborhood, my family and I were ignorant of the fact that our lot was considered a “raptor habitat,” surrounded on two sides by dense and mature foliage that is inhabited by multiple varieties of owls and hawks and falcons—all labeled “raptors,” birds of prey that hunt with their talons.

When my two children hand-released the pair of owl babies into our backyard last year, an enduring relationship with RRN was launched as well; the population of owls at our address has swelled to the point that we can now spot the raptors on clear evenings as dusk approaches.

The September announcement that a mixed-use project I have reported on—Prairie Center, in Brighton, Colo.—will be home to a $1 million Raptor Education Foundation (REF) headquarters facility understandably grabbed my attention. The developer, St. Louis-based THF Realty, originally encountered on a large scale what my family has experienced in our own backyard—the 1,984-acre site contained a sizable nesting spot for bald eagles. When THF began its site preparations for Prairie Center in 2004, the company went to great lengths to help sustain and support the bald-eagle population, retaining a natural-resource management firm to study the food supply, funding an Eagle Watch program to monitor nesting eagles and creating a 160-acre regional wildlife sanctuary.

“Development thrives when it creatively connects with the community it serves,” said Michael Staenberg, president of THF. “Our investment in maintaining the eagle habitat gives Prairie Center a distinctive identity that will endure.”

Interestingly, REF, which is Colorado’s leading advocate for raptors, initially stood in opposition to the Prairie Center development. But, because of THF Realty’s careful preservation of the environment, the foundation selected the project as its new headquarters, joining a planned 3 million sq. ft. of retail, 4,500 detached homes, condos and apartments, a hotel complex and an office development. The new REF headquarters, which for 25 years has been located in Aurora, Colo., will have space for a nature education center for school children and the public, offices, a raptor environmental resource center and, potentially, housing for up to 50 raptors.

As fashion retail wanes, and mall owners increasingly look to nontraditional leasing sources to fill space, it seems that THF Realty may have feathered its nest with the most out-of-the-ordinary tenant of all.

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