Gina Pike spends hours with her birds every day, forging a connection so strong she can understand what some bird calls mean. The vice-chairwoman of the Raptor Fliers Association of WA, she dedicates hours to rehabilitating birds of prey, teaching them how to hunt again and trying to give them the best chance of survival after their release. “You just build such a relationship, and become so in tune with not only the birds but the environment as a whole,” she said. “ I love them very much. They’re my world and I’m theirs. “Letting them go is bittersweet. You spend hours a day with them trying to get them to be the best bird they can be. To let one go and say here you go, I’ve done my best, now it’s up to you...really hurts. “You just think to yourself please make it, please go out and make more.” The McGowan Government this month announced the successful recipients of the Wildlife Heroes Wildlife Rehabilitation and Emergency Response grants — among them the Crossman-based RFAWA. The grant is designed to help wildlife rehabilitators care for sick and injured native wildlife, with the aim of releasing them back into the wild. Falconry is illegal in Australia, but Ms Pike said the RFAWA would be the first group to have a licence to legally practice falconry for rehabilitation purposes. Ms Pike is in the process of rehabilitating two birds on her Crossman property. She trains her birds first thing every day, while the wind is low, doing laps of her 283ha property with a one-year-old on her hip and a three-year-old in tow. She teaches them to dive and catch by throwing a lure, and builds their fitness with free flights which are often in excess of 10km per session. Birds of prey have typically been rehabilitated in an aviary setting, due to the laws around falconry which prevent birds practising hunting. The success rate of this style of rehabilitation was low, given the birds’ lack of training and exercise. “People rehabilitate them in aviaries and just open the door and let them go, they don't know how to get food, and they’re not trained to come back if they can’t,” she said. “The way we do it is we take them hunting, and teach them how to survive in the wild.” Ms Pike said the grant would allow the association to invest in technology to monitor each bird’s performance and show how effective their style of rehabilitation was in preparing the birds for release.