Raptor Center prepares young birds for release

By Katie Horn and Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing


The Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University is preparing to release more than a dozen young birds thought to be orphans this summer. The center, which is home to the university's three beloved eagles, War Eagle VI and VII and Spirit, was built in the 1970s with the mission of rehabilitation, research and education regarding raptors and other birds.

In an average year, the center will take in 250 to 275 birds that are injured or thought to be orphaned, most of which come from within a 100-mile radius of Auburn. Currently, the Raptor Center has taken in about 20 orphans, including vultures, screech owls, barred owls and red-tailed hawks.

While most of the orphaned birds have been brought in by concerned citizens, Liz Crandall, raptor rehabilitation specialist, says many are not orphans at all.

"Each year during the spring season we take in a lot of young nestlings and fledglings, not only raptors, but songbirds too," Crandall explained.

Despite the confusion concerning the birds, the Raptor Center accepts and cares for these birds until they are ready to be released back into the wild.

The orphan season runs from spring to midsummer, according to Eva Mathews, veterinary technician at the Raptor Center. During these months the center sees an escalation in the number of young birds brought in for care.

"Songbirds, owls and hawks are on the ground for at least a month, if not more, learning how to hunt, how to fly and things like that before they become completely independent from their parents," Crandall said.
Crandall added that this period of adaption makes it extremely important to allow the birds to remain in their habitat and not to disturb them. Crandall advises those who have found a grounded bird to be observant of the area in which the bird was found.

"Leave [the bird] alone," she said. "Try to get away and don't stay and watch for the parents because as long as you are there you're an intruder in their home."

She said instead to look for clues that the bird is being cared for. If there are remnants of food lying on the ground it is a sign the bird's parents are nearby and things are as they should be. However, she said, if the bird has been injured there are certain procedures to follow.

Crandall suggests using leather gloves, like welding gloves, to handle the injured bird or to cover it with a towel and place the bird in a dark, confined area and bring it to the Raptor Center as soon as possible.
Once in the care of the Raptor Center, the birds are treated until healthy enough to be released. In some cases, if they are determined too ill to be released and become permanent residents of the center, the birds may become foster parents to orphaned birds brought in to the center.

"Depending on the bird, it can take several months," Mathews said of the rehabilitation period which can include surgery and physical therapy. " [For] some birds it doesn't take very long at all to get them back in the wild."

Mathews noted that while it is easy to get attached to the birds, the center tries to release the birds as close as possible to where they came from. However, with birds coming from all areas, especially Mississippi, Georgia and across Alabama, it is not always possible to return the birds to their exact starting point.
"Again most of these birds come from within 100 miles of Auburn, so it's safe for us to release them from here," Crandall said. "We're trying to do more public releases so people can come and enjoy the bird releases; we've been doing them in Town Creek, Kiesel Park, places like that."

For more information on the Southeastern Raptor Center, see this link.

Last Updated: Jun. 9, 2011

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