Woman helps education soar

Warren resident makes certain flight cage built for Hiram College

Tribune Chronicle / Burton Cole
Mary Benjamin, 22, of Warren, stands inside the Mary Benjamin Rehab Cage that she and other Hiram College students built at the J.H. Barrow Field Station outside of Garrettsville. The flight cage is a place where injured birds can regain flying strength and abandoned babies can learn to fly in safety.

Tribune Chronicle / Burton Cole Mary Benjamin, 22, of Warren, stands inside the Mary Benjamin Rehab Cage that she and other Hiram College students built at the J.H. Barrow Field Station outside of Garrettsville. The flight cage is a place where injured birds can regain flying strength and abandoned babies can learn to fly in safety.

NELSON — Mary Benjamin wanted her classmates to see rehabbed raptors fly.

So the biology and environmental studies double major from Warren made sure a flight cage was built for Hiram College’s avian rehabilitation station.

“We got a nestling hawk the summer of 2015. We had to raise him, but we didn’t have a flight cage to make sure he was ready to release,” said Benjamin, 22. “I thought that was kind of dumb that we didn’t have a flight cage if we were going to do rehab.”

Besides her studies at the college’s J.H. Barrow Field Station halfway between Hiram and Garrettsville, Benjamin put in two days a week at Penitentiary Glen Reservation in Kirtland, which also worked with injured adult raptors or orphaned baby birds.

“Pen Glen had flight cages,” she said. “I helped raise a nestling hawk that we got (at Penitentiary Glen). I thought the students here were missing out on flighting a rehabbing hawk.”

She told Jim Metzinger, director of the Barrow Field Station, that Hiram simply must build a flight cage. She looked up plans online.

It turns out the plans already were in place. It was the money that was missing.

“This has been on the wish list for a number of years,” Metzinger said. “We had donations of lumber and other supplies, and some other cash, but not enough to complete the project.”

Benjamin had an idea — the Benjamin Foundation, which was started by her grandfather in Cleveland.

“My family, we have a certain amount of money we can give every year to a nonprofit group,” Benjamin said. “When my sister and I turned 18, we got to chose a charity. When they asked me, I said, ‘Well, the field station, of course.’ I donated $2,000 to the field station from my family’s foundation.”

She also turned nearly a dozen environmental studies and biology students into a construction crew. In July, using entirely volunteer labor, they began building the 20-foot-wide, 60-foot-long, 15-foot-high Mary Benjamin Rehab Cage with walls of lumber and a heavy wire mesh top.

“For a cage this size, if contracted out, it probably would cost $15,000 to $20,000,” Metzinger said.

The back side of the cage faces part of the 200 acres of beech-maple forest on the 550-acre field station. A large tree outside the cage provides some shade covering.

Inside the cage, other than a shelter box high in a back corner and the leafless remains of a tree toward the front, the space is wide open with room for nestling birds to learn to fly and for injured birds that were rehabbed to exercise and regain strength to fly.

“Most of the birds we get can’t fly, either because they’re babies or they’re injured,” Metzinger said. “The cage provides protection to birds that can’t get off the ground.”

The cage is well inside a fenced-off and locked area that doubly keeps out raccoons and other potential predators, and is off limits to human visitors as well. Another building inside the enclosure resembles a large greenhouse but it’s a rehabilitation center for endangered waterfowl.

The open top was planned by Metzinger, a 1988 Hiram grad who spent 15 years as curator of birds at SeaWorld of Ohio until closed and then worked as curator of birds at the Akron Zoo until returning to Hiram College five years ago.

“It reintroduces them to the elements,” he said.

A door is built into the end facing the woods.

“We don’t release them into the wild. We open the door and the bird leaves on its own,” Metzinger said. “Generally, if it’s a bird that was injured and placed in the facility for rehab, once it leaves the cage, it never comes back. If it’s a fledgling that never learned to hunt on its own, it might hang around the cage for a few days and come back in for meals.”

The cage has housed one raptor so far, a red-shouldered hawk that apparently hit a window and was stunned. It was brought in for rehab around Thanksgiving.

“We held it for a couple days, then brought it out here to test it. We opened the door the same day and it left,” Metzinger said.

The busy months for bird rehabs are spring and summer. Hiram anticipates working with five to 10 raptors a year.

bcole@tribtoday.com

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