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The Bird Man Of Oregon County

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

Dan Cover remembers his hawks the way old bird hunters reminisce about their favorite pointers or retrievers. You can almost feel the sharp bite of cold prairie mornings gone by as Cover recalls the exploits of his beloved falcons, goshawks and sakers. The birds, with names like Colonel, Tiger and Speedy, were his hunting partners for more than 40 years.

A native of Thayer, in southern Missouri, Cover, along with a handful of other hawk fanciers, helped revive the sport of falconry in America. During the 1960s, various outdoor magazines immortalized these falconers' exploits across the prairies of Canada and the upper Midwest. Cover also chronicled many of his hawking adventures in his 1996 book, "Oh, Those Wonderful Hawks!"

His fondness for raptors extended far beyond hunting. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, Cover possessed two peregrine falcons that successfully hatched and fledged 29 offspring. The addition of these birds into the population was a contributed significantly to a struggling population.

"I was one of the first people to raise peregrine falcons in captivity," Cover said. "Back then, very little was known about these birds, so there was no one to turn to."

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) sent eggs and brood stock for Cover to raise. They wanted him to establish a separate colony of peregrines so that if a disease outbreak occurred among Cornell's captive peregrine flock, it wouldn't wipe out the entire population. Cover also taught the birds to hunt so they could survive when released.

"When they first started releasing peregrines, they had individual birds, generally in cities, but they didn't have mates," Cover recalled.

Children across America marveled at the story of Scarlett and Rhett, the first pair of captive-bred peregrines to raise young in the wild. Scarlett took up residence atop a Baltimore, Maryland, skyscraper in the early 70s. Rhett was released nearby, and, as the story goes, it was love at first sight.

That story is no fairy tale, and it has a Missouri connection, for it was Dan Cover who taught Scarlett and Rhett to hunt.

"When Scarlett accepted Rhett, it was a turning point, a highly emotional moment," Cover said. "They raised four birds together before Rhett succumbed from eating a poisoned pigeon."

These efforts all occurred at a time when raptors, including peregrines, were imperiled not only by the effects of DDT, but also by hostile attitudes of the public.

"To many people, the only

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