California Raptor Center opens its doors

From barn owls to golden eagles, the volunteer-run California Raptor Center (CRC) is home to hundreds of local predatory birds, and around 200 people from all over the community will gather at the CRC for its biannual Open House this Oct. 19.

Established in 1972, the CRC was first founded by the Department of Avian Sciences with the assistance of the California Department of Fish and Game. Due to the growing number of non-releasable raptors and the need for a larger facility, the CRC was handed over to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and moved out to Old Davis Road eight years later.

One of the primary goals of the CRC is to provide medical care for healing raptors, and the center still continues to carry on this goal to this day.

Every year approximately 200 injured, sick and orphaned birds are brought to the CRC by the community. After the rehabilitation process, about 120 raptors are able to be released back into the wild.

Before nourishing the raptors back to health, volunteers are trained to give medication and perform physical checkups, therapy and inoculation. Additionally, the center focuses on illness prevention by testing for West Nile Virus among the raptors.

Since its founding, the CRC conducts raptor research, aids in the rehabilitation of birds and raises general awareness through education.

Lis Fleming, an education program volunteer, has been volunteering at the Raptor Center for 19 years and thoroughly enjoys informing the public through her informational presentations.

“I really enjoy the enthusiasm that people have when they come learn about the birds. We can’t really explain [what we do] without people coming to see the birds,” Fleming said.

The open house provides numerous ways in which visitors can acquire a better understanding of the CRC and its main objectives.

Starting at 8 a.m., visitors have the opportunity to view wild birds through a scenic “hawk walk” along Putah Creek. Visitors can also observe the raptors up close through self-guided tours around the premises of the CRC.

“The purpose of these birds is education and people can see these birds in a way that they couldn’t in the wild,” Fleming said.

To specifically learn more about raptor biology and ecology, the open house will include interactive classroom presentations which cover topics ranging from conservation and species identification. These presentations will be led by trained volunteers who specialize in the education program.

After hearing about the Raptor Center through a professor, Michael Chu, a fourth-year student majoring in animal biology, decided to volunteer at the center.

“I like observing the birds and their behaviors. I also like learning more about them and what they’re comfortable with,” Chu said.

Tim Couch, a volunteer from Vacaville has been volunteering at the Raptor Center for about a year, helping birds regain flight ability by attaching them to fishing poles and letting them test their wings.

“It’s an opportunity you don’t really get. It’s pretty neat testing the birds,” Couch said. “It’s kind of weird putting a bird on a fishing pole.”

While the CRC continues to maintain its facility and educate hundreds of people every year through its local volunteers, it is no longer funded by the state.

“We’re really underwatered,” Fleming said.

According to Fleming, it costs about $5 a day to feed each bird. Since there are approximately 100 birds at the center, it would cost nearly $500 to feed all of the raptors daily. Taking into consideration all of the factors that contribute to the center, its daily operations become quite expensive.

Currently, the center solely depends on the public for the majority of its funds. In addition to public donations, sponsorships are extremely helpful in keeping the CRC running.

Fortunately, Whole Foods is sponsoring the open house and will be giving out free samples throughout the event. The Mendocino Brewing Company, who happen to name their beers after the raptors, is also sponsoring and will attend the open house as well.

Some of the raptors at the CRC are even individually sponsored. Mikey, a red-shouldered hawk, found his claim to fame after being featured on PBS with the late American television personality, Huell Howser.

After hitting his head as a chick, Mikey’s right eye stopped growing; as a result, his depth perception was completely damaged.

“Mikey was named after a food commercial because he loves to eat. He’s a fun story and is quite a character,” Fleming said.

Due to his increasing popularity, Mikey is frequently sponsored by Adopt-A-Bird. This program allows the public to “adopt” a raptor by sending monetary donations which provide food, veterinary care and housing for a permanent resident or patient recovering at the CRC.

For 19 years, the CRC has been a home for Mikey, and also for hundreds of local raptors who share similar, yet individual stories.

On Oct. 19, the community will have the opportunity to discover some of these interesting stories while exploring the California Raptor Center and its facility.

LUJAIN AL-SALEH can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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