By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Most kids spend their birthday money or allowance on gifts or treats for themselves.

But a Minneapolis girl had other plans.

Nine-year-old Leah Whalen is an animal lover.

And she was inspired by a story she saw on WCCO where veteran Jason Galvin saved an eagle named Freedom who was stuck in a tree.

Galvin shot the twine Freedom was caught on to free the bird.

“She definitely likes all kinds of animals, but raptors are near the top,” said mom Heather Whalen.

To prove it, Leah set out on a mission of her own. She wanted to show that the early bird really does get the worm.

“She did extra chores, odd jobs. She mowed lawns,” said Heather.

And she did it all for the raptors. Leah was inspired by Freedom’s story. Wanting to give back, she set a personal goal of raising a $1,000. It took over a year to get there and the money didn’t just come from chores — Christmas and birthday cash helped make it possible.

“I was really happy because I had been saving up for it for a long time,” said Leah.

The $1,000 that Leah raised and then donated to the Raptor Center will go towards caring for one of these birds for up a full year. And as part of that donation she got to pick which bird she wanted to be a wingman for.

leah whalen with her turkey vulture Inspired By Veterans Eagle Rescue, Girl Raises $1K To Support Turkey Vulture At Raptor Center

Leah with Nero, the turkey vulture (credit: CBS)

For Leah, that truly meant a bird of a different feather.

“He eats basically anything that’s meat and dead that he can find,” said Leah.

Leah chose Nero, a 43-year-old turkey vulture and one of 30 educational birds at the center who wouldn’t survive in the wild.

turkey vulture Inspired By Veterans Eagle Rescue, Girl Raises $1K To Support Turkey Vulture At Raptor Center

Nero (credit: CBS)

“She’s always kind of favored the animals that are underappreciated. Less popular, maybe,” said Heather.

Nero definitely fits that bill. As the youngest donator in Raptor Center history, she got a tour and a birthday cake perfect for her. Executive Director Julia Ponder is happy to see someone so young, spreading her wings so early.

“And to see the next generation care enough to work for it, to help, that’s what our future is about,” said Ponder.

“No gift is too small because when you thing about it one gift leads to another gift. So it all adds up in the end,” said Leah.

To donate to the Raptor Center, click here or call 612-624-8547.

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