Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a... raptor?!?

A raptor, you say?  You mean, one of those prehistoric dinosaurs?

He he he - well, not exactly.

A raptor is a bird of prey.  You know - hawks, eagles, owls, falcons - things of that ilk?

Let me give you some examples.

[caption id="attachment_405" align="aligncenter" width="308" caption="Barred Owl"][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_409" align="aligncenter" width="303" caption="Red-tailed Hawk"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_406" align="aligncenter" width="308" caption="American Kestrel"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_407" align="aligncenter" width="312" caption="Barn Owl"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_408" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Red-shouldered Hawk"][/caption]

I am a birder.  The Random House Dictionary defines this as:

birder  bird·er

noun   bird watcher.

(and then-)

bird watcher

noun    a person who identifies and observes birds in their natural habitat as a recreation.

I have a life list of a little over 600 birds.  Respectable, but nothing to brag about.  My husband and I watched The Big Year last night.  I mean, I hardly compare to the bigwigs.  But, I enjoy it.  My dad is a birder.  He has birded my whole life.  I have always loved animals and nature, but didn't really identify myself as a birder until my senior year of college, when I took ornithology and began to keep a life list.  Then, it slowly became somewhat of an obsession.

However, my freshman year of college I began volunteering at the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center (now known as the Southeastern Raptor Center), affiliated with Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine.  Although it was volunteer, I'll always consider it the best job I ever had.

I jumped in with both feet, thinking this was the coolest opportunity ever.  I mean - how many people got to cut, skin, weigh and measure dead mice and scrub bird poop out of water dishes each day?  Okay - so maybe THAT part doesn't sound the coolest...  but soon I was assisting with medical exams of incoming injured birds, and training a Harris's Hawk to fly on command for our education programs.  Now, THAT was cool.

After a while I was given the title Director of Internal Education and Volunteer Affairs.  It was my job to recruit, train and mentor new volunteers. With the exception of one paid employee, the center was entirely volunteer run.  And run it we did!  Those of us who were involved were really involved, spending every spare second at that place.  During our tenure a new center was built, and we moved from a small delapidated barn tucked behind the vet school to a new state of the art facility on a parcel of land all to ourselves.  It was fantastic.  We had a modest collection of permanent education birds, nonreleasable for one reason or another, that we regularly used to give programs to the public.  And we took in injured and orphaned raptors which we rehabilitated for the purpose of release.  As volunteers we were on call to pick up injured animals, we did initial assessments upon their arrival and administered emergency care if necessary, we gave medicines, wrapped wings, tube-fed, radiographed, toted animals to the vet school to see various specialists (eye, bone, etc.), and ran anesthesia during surgeries.  We performed necropsies when a bird didn't make it or had to be euthanized - oh, and we did that too.  We fed birds and exercised birds on creance lines to condition them for release.  We did it all - and it. was. awesome.

Then there was some drama, as the center moved to take over the housing, care and training of Tiger, the Golden Eagle flown at the football games, from a fraternity.  We successfully gained control of the eagle, and she was moved to the center.  So, now we were also in charge of flying her before all of the Auburn home football games (and Auburn fans are fanatical about their football...).

I was promoted to Director of Rehabilitation.  I loved it.  I was responsible for taking over the care of every rehabilitated bird once it was deemed releasable, and preparing it for release.  This meant managing its diet and conditioning it via flight cage time and a creance line in order to build its endurance.  And finally, once I concluded the bird was ready, actually releasing it back to the wild - the coolest part of all.

At some point the center underwent some internal turmoil, which resulted in a large percentage of the volunteer force, including myself, leaving, and ultimately the paid director being fired.  It was a chapter in my life I will always cherish, as I have such fond memories.

Anyway - this is quite a random post, and you're probably wondering why I may think you're interested in all of this, but 1) today is my birthday so I wanted to blog about something I loved, and 2) this is the precursor to two posts that will soon follow:

1) animal rehabilitation


2) falconry (the current director of the raptor center was my sponsor and also officiated my wedding!)

So - hopefully you enjoyed reading about these magnificent animals, nonetheless, and perhaps you'll find more relevance in these posts, which will be out soon...

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