Raptor Experience

Artie always impresses his new friends

Artie always impresses his new friends

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about S.O.A.R.–Save Our American Raptors.  This is a fantastic, and very tiny, organization that cares for about a dozen or so unreleaseable birds of prey, making a life-long commitment to care for birds that may outlive the current organizers.

These birds stay fit and happy by participating in educational programs that help spread awareness of the importance of predators to our ecosystem and provide an up-close, one-of-a-kind experience for the human participants.

Unfortunately, not all of the birds can fly.  Some have eye injuries and wing injuries that make flight impossible for them.  The ones that can fly usually are human-imprints that cannot or will not return to the wild because they perceive humans as their parents.  Cayce, the black vulture, as a case-in-point, has been released to the wild three times only to return to her human parents.

Not a great shot, but Cayce is usually the star of the show, playing with the visitors and flying for them

Not a great shot, but Cayce is usually the star of the show, playing with the visitors and flying for them

S.O.A.R. offers an opportunity to have an intimate experience with their birds called “The Raptor Experience.”  This is actually how I first met Dale and John, the birds caretakers and directors in the organization.  About a year ago, I saw their poster at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park when we were taking hang gliding lessons.  Pat and I called and scheduled our experience and were amazed by the whole thing.

This participant enjoys meeting Buddy, an Eastern Screech Owl

This participant enjoys meeting Buddy, an Eastern Screech Owl

Since that time, I’ve been volunteering for S.O.A.R. whenever and however they need me.  When Dale called me over the holidays and asked if I could assist her with a Raptor Experience, I was thrilled to have the opportunity.

Two couples and a friend arrived at the S.O.A.R. location in a van driven by Dale.  Because the road back to S.O.A.R. is a bit tough on the suspension, Dale or John meets attendees at a nice, smooth parking lot a couple miles away and then shuttles them to the site.  Sometimes the ride up can be a bit of a thrill–slick mud made for some tricky maneuvering on this particular day, but Dale’s experience negotiating the road makes it a very safe ride.

Artie watches his new friend carefully, probably hoping he'll get petted (he did)

Artie watches his new friend carefully, probably hoping he’ll get petted (he did)

I helped get birds out, put them on gloves, and talked about them in a sort-of tag-team with Dale.  I realized that while I think I know a lot about the birds, I have much to learn.

The owls are always a favorite for visitors–perhaps because they’re the only raptors in the program who enjoy being petted.  If you scratch the back of Artie’s neck just right, he rolls his head back, his eyelids close and you could almost swear you hear him moan.

Jerry enjoys being petted, too.

Jerry enjoys being petted, too.

Like Jerry and Buddy, the Eastern Screech Owls, Artie, a Barred Owl, was hit by a car.  All 3 owls are unable to fly as a result of their injuries.  Most people are surprised when they hear the owls were hit by cars, but statistically, this is the most common way that owls are injured.

Maybe we should put up owl crossing signs?

 

Theo like to flap a lot--he's one of the human-imprints that can still fly

Theo like to flap a lot–he’s one of the human-imprints that can still fly

Atsa Yazi, the littlest eagle, is a small male Bald Eagle who was shot when he was only a year old, costing him his wing

Atsa Yazi, the littlest eagle, is a small male Bald Eagle who was shot when he was only a year old, costing him his wing

 

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