Monday, October 1, 2012

Raptors in Rehab

This past weekend we got to take a tour of a rehabilitation facility for injured raptors (birds of prey), called Wild At Heart.
Wild at Heart is quite a large place, housing about 175 birds, but it’s well hidden among desert trees and cacti in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix.

The sights and sounds instantly took me back 35 years, to when I worked at a similar facility as a teenager. A soft flap-flap-flap-thump repeated back and forth in the falcon flight cage. When I looked through the wires of the Great Horned Owl cage, fourteen identical brilliant yellow eyes stared back.  Baby Barn Owls silently swayed and bobbed in their nest box. The kee-kee-kee of the Kestrels created background music to everything else.
A nice facility for recovering birds and hardworking volunteers

The facility is run entirely by volunteers. Veterinary services are donated, as are the materials for the aviaries and flight pens. The layout seems quite well-designed, the cages are very clean (advances have been made in cage materials since the 70s), and the birds are certainly healthy, aside from the specific injuries which necessitated their rescue.
Harris Hawks – healthy and very noisy
The people at Wild At Heart also coordinate several important programs: captive breeding, species recovery, foster parenting, and relocation.
Burrowing owls frequently need to be relocated due to human encroachment or other problems with their dens.
I worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center all through Junior High and High School, and then worked at a raptor center similar to this one during college. That was a very large part of my life then, and it made a big impact on me.
Yet I ended up not being a veterinarian or a bird biologist, or working with animals in any way. Is it possible to suffer from burnout at age 22? Because I think that’s what happened. The physical challenge of the work was no problem for me as a young woman, but the emotional drain of trying to help hundreds of suffering animals day after day broke some part of me that would have been required to keep going. When I think of it now – standing in the treatment room, attending to any given crisis: the broken wing, the hungry baby, the oiled feathers, the gunshot wound, the blind eye, it goes on and on and never ends – I still feel a painful wrench of something inside that tells me I’m still not quite ready to go back to working with hurt animals.
So I’m thankful to those who have the guts and determination to keep doing it for years on end, like the people at Wild at Heart. There is a lot of interesting information at their website here.

What did you do on the weekend?



  1. Great that these places exist.

    This is our local equivalent.

    This wk-end? Sorting the house ready for sale - wish me luck!!!

    1. Wonderful that there are similar endeavors everywhere.
      What's this about selling your house?!?! I do wish you luck - it's a huge undertaking!

  2. What is that people have to injure birds...especially raptors.We have laws here supposedly to protect nests,eggs and grown birds but there is always someone out there wanting to kill them.I am lucky in that I live in an area that has lots of raptors...mostly buzzards and the beautiful Red Kite which has been successfully reintroduced after being hounded out of existence.Peregrine Falcons nested nearby but,despite being "guarded" some idiot still managed to poison the adults and the young died.Why do it?

    1. It's a tragedy and a question I've been asking for decades, with no answer other than people's sick stupidity. The bizarre injuries inflicted on birds and other animals are, at the very least, bewildering; more likely they'll give you nightmares.
      Fortunately there have been a few species success stories, as with your Red Kite, our Condors are back and our Peregrines are gaining ground. Still much work to be done.