Two brothers who have been active in Boy Scouts since first grade received the organization’s highest mark of achievement, the Eagle Scout rank, with projects at ZooMontana.
Tilden Butz, 14, a freshman at West High School, recently followed his brother Gavin’s example at ZooMontana by building a housing raptor enclosure, called a mew, for one of the zoo’s newest animals, a Swainson’s hawk named Sierra.
Tilden received his Eagle Scout rank during a ceremony Aug. 11 at the zoo’s amphitheater. Gavin did the honors of presenting his brother with his Eagle Scout kerchief. Eagle Scouts also get a patch and a medal to wear on their uniform.
Gavin, 16, a junior at West, received his Eagle Scout rank last year in a ceremony in the zoo’s sensory garden. Gavin’s project was to build a large shed for volunteers to store their gardening tools.
When Tilden started looking for an Eagle Scout project, he naturally turned to the zoo, a place he enjoys visiting.
“It’s always been one of my favorite places to go. It was just a perfect fit,” Tilden said.
The Butz family also had worked with Jeff Ewelt, the zoo’s executive director, on Gavin’s project.
“This family has gone above and beyond,” Ewelt said. “I’m grateful for all Eagle Scouts, but this family set the bar.”
The raptor enclosure, Ewelt said, was something he thought Tilden could do and was needed for Sierra.
Sierra came to the zoo earlier from the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman, Ewelt said. The 2-year old juvenile is healthy but was habituated to humans after being illegally raised by someone who probably found the hawk as a fledging, he said.
The hawk is not among the zoo’s animal exhibits, Ewelt said.
“Our goal is to fly her at programs,” Ewelt said. “She will see thousands of kids,” he said.
While the mew was under construction, Sierra lived indoors. The mew is tucked in behind the zoo’s amphitheatre. The 20-foot-by-10-foot green mew is basically a cage with an adjoining enclosed area for items to care for the hawk. Sierra can perch and roam on branches, fly in short bursts and play with toy balls and snakes.
The young hawk is inquisitive. She came up close to cage’s wall and stared intently at her visitors while softly whistling, as if to join in the conversation.
Swainson’s hawks are broad-winged raptors that migrate from North America to Argentina. The hawks live in open rangeland, plains and grasslands and hunt grasshoppers, crickets and small rodents. The adult plumage can be dark, rufus or light colored. A typical light morph Swainson’s hawk has a dark colored bib and a pale belly. Sierra is still in her juvenile plumage of brown and buff-colored feathers.
Sierra eats mice and rats and an occasional chicken, Ewelt said.
Eagle Scout projects involve thorough review and approval by scouting committees. Tilden and Gavin also worked closely with Ewelt. Demonstrating planning and leadership, in addition to execution, are key goals of Eagle scouting projects, the boys said.
Once their projects got approved, each boy had to raise donations. Local hardware, lumber and construction companies, along with individuals and families, helped with supplies and donations. The mew cost an estimated $3,500, Tilden said.
The boys also had to organize workers who ranged in age from Scouts as young as 12 to adults. Tilden led a workforce of up to 40 individuals who helped clear the mew site by removing a tree. He also worked on roofing the building in a snowstorm when the temperature was 30 degrees with a 25 mph crosswind.
“Ugh,” Tilden said, recalling that day.
The Butz family, including parents Mike and Shelli, built the walls in their front yard and brought them to the zoo for assembly.
“We’re kind of a family of doers,” Shelli Butz said.
Mike Butz, also an Eagle Scout and assistant scoutmaster of Troop 27, praised the zoo’s cooperation and Ewelt’s flexibility and openness. Ewelt, he said, allowed them access to the grounds during off hours.
Gavin’s shed has enabled the botanical garden volunteers to keep their tools and equipment organized in one, nearby location instead of mixed in with zoo tools.
“The shed is so incredibly wonderful. It’s been a godsend to them,” Ewelt said. “This has saved me tremendous grief as well,” he added.
Kevin Brooks, Troop 27’s scoutmaster, has known the brothers since they joined the scouts as first graders.
“An Eagle project is designed for the boy to be a leader,” Brooks said, and compared it to being a general contractor who is in charge of timing, coordination, design, funding and working with a client.
“It sounds pretty straightforward, but for a 14-year-old, that’s a big deal,” Brooks said. “Gavin and Tilden did just a superb job of getting that work done. I think the zoo is extremely happy and proud of the product they got,” he added.
Having achieved the Boy Scouts award, Gavin and Tilden said they still will continue scouting activities.
The brothers are both interested in science and play football at West High. Gavin said he’d like to pursue a career in civil or biochemical engineering.
Tilden is leaning toward medicine, perhaps as a surgeon, or becoming a pilot in the Air Force.