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“We either have to really do it or we have to quit,” Neumann remembers telling her husband, John.

In 1999 she decided to “really do it,” forming SOAR as a nonprofit organization and full-time labor of love.

SOAR receives about 150 birds annually, primarily raptors. Common patients include red-tailed hawks, kestrels, great horned owls, screech owls, and bald eagles.

Some of these birds are stricken with infections such as West Nile virus. Others are injured in collisions, often with cars, power lines, or fences. A few are deliberately shot or poisoned.

Not all poisoning is intentional. Many birds succumb to lead toxicity, most after ingesting lead shot or fragments of lead bullets discharged by hunters.

Bald eagles, which scavenge gut piles and unrecovered deer carcasses, are particularly susceptible. “I’d hardly ever get to see an eagle for rehabilitation if it weren’t for lead poisoning,” laments Neumann, “which would be fine with me.”

Her experience has moved Neumann to advocate for lead alternatives.

She has worked with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to develop educational materials for outdoor enthusiasts, helps with Iowa State University studies on lead levels in raptors, and lobbies the Iowa Legislature for restrictions on lead ammunition.

“It’s not that we can’t stand to see animals die,” explains Neumann. “We see animals die every day. It’s just that there would be something so easy to do to fix this.”

Her efforts to replace lead haven’t yet produced the results Neumann would like, but persisting in spite of setbacks is something to which she’s grown accustomed. Seven of the nine snowy owls recovered last winter died before or shortly after arriving at SOAR.

Neumann chooses to focus instead on the victories. A female snowy rescued in Wright County made a full recovery at SOAR. Neumann worked in cooperation with the Raptor Research Project (of the Decorah Eagle Cam fame) to fit the owl with a transmitter before releasing her in October.

If all goes well, tracking her movements will allow scientists to add to a growing body of knowledge regarding these birds.

(Read more Avian Advocates)

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