- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

EUDORA, Miss. (AP) - Lake Cormorant area farmer Jason McGowen remembers the beat-up bird.

“We had an injured owl that got scooped up by a plow,” recalled McGowen, 42, also a machinist for Canadian National Railway, formerly Illinois Central. “It bit the snot out of somebody, but we were able to take it to her.”

That “her” is Valery Smith, a federally licensed raptor handler and founder and executive director of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation group. Smith tends and mends for eventual release birds on her 100-acre spread near Eudora in western DeSoto County, not far from the McGowen Farms acreage of soybeans and hay.

McGowen knows the value of birds of prey to agricultural producers. He’s also put another injured owl and a hawk into Smith’s care. And he’s done something else: he planted a seed that led to a much-appreciated financial boost for the critter caregivers.

Jason submitted MWR’s name to the Monsanto Fund, which supports charitable organizations,” said Smith, “and I was notified a couple of weeks ago we’d be the recipient of $2,500 through the fund’s America’s Farmers Grow Communities program - and are we excited.

Jason’s a fine young man with a kind and tender heart who’s been involved with Boy Scouts and other organizations most of his life.”

McGowen soared to Eagle rank as a youth, and as an adult he’s served as an aquatics instructor at Camp Currier in Eudora and as a volunteer firefighter for Walls.

Monsanto sent a huge cardboard ceremonial check, and a formal presentation - attended by Monsanto district sales manager Mark Brewer, MWR board members Wayne Spell and Missy Flanagan and mammal rehabber Petronella “Petra” May - was made recently at the ARK Trail gateway on Mississippi Highway 304 west of Hernando.

“I entered the contest last year, and they pulled my name out of a hat,” said McGowen. “They asked me what nonprofit I’d like the money to go to, and right away I thought of Valery Smith.”

“I think it’s excellent work they do,” said Brewer. “I’d like to see the public find out more about it.”

McGowen has expressed interest in helping upgrade MWR’s bird of prey cages, said Smith: “They’re very old and he saw that right away. So that’s what we’ll use most of the money for - a bird of prey face-lift.”

Inspecting one cage with McGowen, Smith said the home of “Spirit” - a Swainson’s hawk non-releasable due to injury but valuable as an education bird - “needs a new roof and an extension, and maybe more shelter on the sides to keep out the wind.”

“I’m glad to help out,” said McGowen.

“Farmers love birds of prey,” said Smith. “I often tell school classes about the hawks following behind a farmer on his tractor are waiting for a rodent to run out so they can have a quick snack.”

A barn owl on average weighs between 400 and 500 grams, just about one pound, said Smith.

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