Message From The Author
Mary Alice Monroe's Raptors Take Flight in SKYWARD
It's typical for me to dive in and get personally involved with the subject of my novels, as anyone who's read The Beach House already knows. I'd already been volunteering for the Sullivan's Island Turtle team—a group dedicated to the protection of the loggerhead sea turtles—whne my passion for the turtles became the backdrop for The Beach House, last year's New York Times, USA Today bestseller.
At about the same time, I began volunteering at the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey. Again, the rehabilitation of raptors was a personal interest of mine and, as with the turtles, I knew when I walked into the situation that there was a novel in there somewhere. I just had to be patient, work hard and experience as many different jobs as possible. Eventually, the story would reveal itself through the birds themselves.
The days I trained with the resident bird staff were exciting times. I learned to hold falcons and hawks to the fist and to train them to the lure. Most of all, I learned to remain watchful and humble with these magnificent creatures. Birds of prey are not docile, nor are they eager to please. The relationship between raptor and human is one of mutual cooperation and respect.
The sanctuary is sequestered off a dirt road away from the main highway. A remote pod of wooden structures nestled in the woods, it is a quiet place of healing. Walking up to the clinic on a typical day, I pass the wooden pens of the resident birds: a bald and a tawny eagle, red-tailed hawks, Mississippi kites, barred and great-horned owls, and vultures, to name a few. The owls watch me pass with their yellow eyes and clack their beaks if I get too close.
Once inside the clinic we speak in hushed voices so as
not to disturb the critically injured birds housed in kennels. Some days are busier than others. Birds are brought in after being shot (yes, this still happens today), poisoned by insecticides or barbiturates, hit by cars, caught in fishing lines and hooks or electrocuted in wires. Some injuries come from natural causes—orphans falling from their nests or the losers in some territorial battle.
After reviewing the treatment cases, we get to work. I don thick gloves, and if I'm working with eagles or some hawks, a face protector. Then I fetch the designated raptor from its kennel. Birds of prey are not accustomed to being handled by humans, and their natural reaction is to fight. I move slowly and deliberately to grab hold of the feet and secure the wings in a body grab before bringing the raptor out. Sometimes it's a battle, as talons are raised in defense. This is the right attitude for survival, and we'd rather see this reaction than a docile, lethargic one that indicates illness. Treatments vary from surgery to tube feedings, injections and fluids to wound treatment. Observing and maintaining treatment is a long, arduous process. To survive in the wild, a raptor must be 100 percent healed.
After medical treatments, our work varies. We feed the birds their daily rations, pick up "leftovers" and clean their pens. (Believe me, we scrub a lot of mutes in a day's work!)
As I grow to understand the birds, their stories and personalities reveal themselves. Some raptors are jocks, some are prima donnas, others are sweet-natured, and there are those birds you'd never turn your back on!
Many of their stories take flight in my newest novel, SKYWARD. It's a story of healing and hope at a birds of prey center, as Ella Majors, an ER nurse, and Harris Henderson, a biologist—two lonely, caring individuals—discover love's ability to transcend loneliness and pain, and the exhilarating beauty of flying free.
I hope that by drawing attention to
the plight of these magnificent birds of prey (one in eight of all bird species stand a risk of becoming extinct in the next 100 years—50 times the historical rate!), I will inspire others to become involved with their protection.
For raptor photos and to read an excerpt from SKYWARD, visit www.maryalicemonroe.com.
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