BOZEMAN, Mont. - A raptor rehabilitation center in Bozeman tells NBC Montana it's on track to help a record number of birds this year -- all with just two paid employees, private donations and grants. When we found out just how busy these folks are, we wanted to find out why and how they're keeping their doors open with limited resources.
Montana Raptor Conservation Center Director Becky Kean and Assistant Director Jordan Spyke are caring for a young osprey who just made it to the center Wednesday. When they responded to the call, the bird was tangled on bailing net, high in its nest. It had a swollen leg and, possibly, a fractured pelvis.
When it first arrived, it wasn't standing on its leg. Now it is.
"You come in at eight and you don't know for sure when you're going to go home that day," says Kean.
The two are dedicated to rehabilitating raptors, like an osprey from Laurel. A year ago, it was burned from head to talon. Now, it's ready to be released back into the wild.
"This job is extremely rewarding," says Spyke.
A chart on the wall lists all of the raptors admitted, why they're there and if and when it was released. The Montana Raptor Conservation Center sees an average of 150 birds a year. This time last year, they were at 108 birds. This year, they're at 141.
"In our job, busy's not always so good," Kean says.
On one hand, more raptors could mean a healthy ecosystem.
"Raptors are a keystone species. They're at the top of the food chain and if anything goes wrong in the environment, raptors are often our first indicators," Spyke explains.
On the other hand, "It also could be because more people know about the raptor center and where to take these birds," says Kean.
She says that's a good thing.
"It's very important to keep our doors open and help these guys because they're pretty magnificent animals and they're a keystone species," explains Kean.
They receive no state or federal funding. All of their money comes from grants and private donations.
"Getting involved in what we do and having a little bit of an emotional connection with these birds and seeing them come in in the state that they do and being able to involve those people in releasing them...sometimes people will reach into their pocketbooks and help us out," Kean explains.
Even still, Kean tells us staying afloat is always a battle -- finding money and time to network with folks who can help bring in birds in need to caring for those raptors to providing important educational resources to the public.
"It puts a stress on two employees," Kean says.
While they can't save every raptor that comes through their doors, Kean says, "We try our best no matter what."
We dug through the center's 2011 990 tax form to find out exactly how much they're taking in and where the money's going. We found their total revenue from 2011 comes out to a little more than $90,000.
Close to $83,000 of that came from gifts and grants. The rest came from investments, fundraising, sales of inventory and program service revenue, that's any money they received for services.
We learned they spent a little more than $89,000 on rent, payments to contractors, insurance, office supplies, advertising and salary for their one employee at the time, who made a little more than $30,000 in 2011.