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$50,000 Ameren Illinois donation allows Illinois Raptor Center to spread its wings

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[January 23, 2014]  DECATUR Jack Nuzzo's job is for the birds, and he loves it.

As program director for the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, Nuzzo and the rest of the center's staff and volunteers are responsible for making sure our feathered friends are well cared for when they are injured.

"We can see anything. That's one of the most exciting things about my job, is you never know what's coming in the door," Nuzzo says. "We can see pretty much anything that is migratory or native to the state of Illinois."

As with any nonprofit organization, the Illinois Raptor Center can't do its good work without the aid of others. To that end, Ameren Illinois recently made a $50,000 donation to help the center help injured birds. The donation, used to build new enclosures for the resident birds, also included making the power lines on the grounds safe for raptors and other birds, plus providing information about how the power line protection system works.

"Ameren Illinois' assistance has been tremendous," Nuzzo says. "Ameren Illinois has been a really neat team, and they've been very, very generous in providing me and the center with materials and making sure I understand what they are doing and how good it is. And I agree with what they are doing. I've been impressed," he says.

When many of these power lines were built, no one thought about environmental impact, such as birds getting injured or killed by perching on unprotected lines it was just about bringing power to areas in need. But that has changed. Ameren Illinois is adding protective covers to existing lines so birds can safely land and is building new lines with enough room on crossarms to accommodate all birds up to the 60-inch wingspan of an eagle.

"We made an agreement with the Illinois Department of Fish and Wildlife that we are an avian-safe company, and we are environmentally aware," says Riley Adams, a consulting engineer for Ameren Illinois who also manages the company's Avian Protection Program. "We're partnered with Fish and Wildlife that's the way we look at it."

The Illinois Raptor Center was established in 1991 and takes in 200 to 300 injured birds a year, mostly raptors such as hawks, owls and eagles, but also other bird species, from loons and pelicans to songbirds. The list of birds the center has helped includes red-tailed, broad-winged and sharp-shinned hawks; great horned, barred, screech, barn and short-eared owls; and bald eagles.

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Some of the birds can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, while others with more severe injuries like broken wings can't be released. These birds become permanent residents at the shelter and are used for education and as surrogate parents for younger birds that are brought in. This ultimately leads to overcrowded facilities, which is what the Ameren Illinois donation has been used to alleviate.

"The project that Ameren Illinois helped support allowed us to build additional caging for the education birds," Nuzzo says. "It frees existing facilities for the hospital."

Thanks to Ameren Illinois, IRC has constructed 36 new mews a falconry term for outdoor enclosures to house the education birds. That frees up 30 additional cages in the hospital area that can be used for injured birds. The center currently has 25 resident (education) birds and 12 injured birds, but both numbers fluctuate throughout the year.

"We have 66 outdoor facilities," Nuzzo says. "It's kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. As of this spring, when everybody's moved over we've almost got this endless source of hospital caging. We can take in quite a few birds and get them rehabbed. And some of these will be dedicated facilities just to (handle) certain species, which will be great."

"The IRC provides an invaluable service to the community, not only by retrieving and rehabbing injured birds but also by providing education about wildlife and the environment," says Richard J. Mark, president and CEO of Ameren Illinois. "We work closely with the IRC and other avian experts to help train our employees on what to do if they come across an injured bird of prey. Recently, a co-worker responded to a report of an injured owl in a substation, that turned out to be an endangered barn owl. Because of the avian protection skills training he received from the IRC, he knew exactly what to do, and the owl is now recovering here at the IRC."

For more information about the Illinois Raptor Center or to donate, visit illinoisraptorcenter.org.

To learn more about Ameren Illinois wildlife protection initiatives, visit Ameren.com and click the environment tab.

[By DOUG KAUFMAN. Text from file received from Illinois Raptor Center]

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