Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center released five rehabilitated birds back into the wild Thursday.

Two red-tailed hawks, two barred owls and one Mississippi kite were released.

“They’ve made it through the rehabilitation process,” said Seth Oster, primary care veterinarian at the raptor center. “They’ve been evaluated for their flight abilities in our aviaries. They’ve passed their flight exams. They’ve been evaluated again for the original injury they came in with to make sure that is indeed resolved. … These birds have all passed, and are ready to go back into the wild.”

The center takes in 350 to 400 injured birds a year.

“Right now, we’re on track for a record year,” Oster said.

Also Thursday, Oster unveiled the raptor center's new Ford Explorer that will be used for the rehabilitation section of the center.

The SUV was bought with a donation from the Auburn Alumni Association, and it has been painted with Southeastern Raptor Center branding.

Gretchen VanValkenburg, vice president of the Auburn Alumni Association, said the donation was part of the association’s mission.

“We learned about the need for a new vehicle for the Southeastern Raptor Center, and our board generously agreed to allocate some funds for that,” VanValkenburg said. “Our partnership with the raptor center has been strong throughout the program, so we really appreciate that support and wanted to do something in return.”

The birds we released one at a time next to the new vehicle.

Volunteers carried each bird to a designated spot and then proceeded to throw the bird into the air. Each bird’s instinct took over, and they flew toward the tree line at the edge of the field where they were released.

Oster said it was a special event to release them in Auburn. Most releases happen in the Tuskegee National Forrest or other habitats. Bald eagles have to be released at the site where the injury took place because of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations.

Birds are transported to release sites or taken to the College of Veterinary medicine for treatment.

“All that boils down to is that we do a lot of driving.” Oster said.

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