Once upon a time I just wanted to hold a raptor. I didn't know a lot about them, just that for whatever reason I was fascinated with them and really wanted to know more. I grew up in a family with pets and a father who knew more about wildlife than most. I grew up watching Wild Kingdom and living with a variety of animals like dogs, cats, birds, rats, rabbits, turtles and being fascinated by all of them. I have always loved learning about animals and getting to know them and I just wanted to learn more about raptors.
Initially, it was challenging finding a way to be able to do this. I had contacted a local education center but never got a response. I was very close to signing up for a day long falconry class despite the fact that I had no interest in falconry, just being with birds. I was lucky in that I was hooked up with Jenny Papka who is the keeper for the raptors of Native Bird Connections.
I began volunteering and cleaning, feeding and handling birds. We have many different types of birds and I have spent the past year and a half learning about these species, as well as getting to know the birds as individuals. My interest and fascination has began to turn into a passion for the birds and a love of helping to educate people about them. One of my favorite things is seeing someone who has never been up close to a raptor or even had much of an interest in them see them for the first time and realize how spectacular they are.
It has been a learning curve for me. At times fun and challenging and, if I am being honest, at times frustrating and confusing. It has been clear and easy to understand intellectually the differences between humans, dogs, parrots and raptors and the differences in working with social vs. non-social animals, but making that shift emotionally can be easier said than done. I am happy with where I am at in the journey, but it isn't without occasional bumps in the road. My goal is to keep my heart and mind open, my ego tucked safely away and my willingness to learn and change at the forefront.
One thing I love to do is post pictures of the birds, sometimes with me or another handler, or sometimes of just the bird alone. I do this because I want so badly to encourage and inspire people. I care about these birds so much and it can be challenging to encourage people to care about animals that are not warm and fuzzy. We don't pet them, we don't ask them to "love" us, we don't think of them as pets or even as ours. One of my favorite things Jenny says is that we are "borrowing them from death". We understand that we are borrowing them from death because they have in some way become unable to survive in the wild. We understand that a captive life is not the life they chose and we are grateful that they are willing to accept it and accept us as trusted partners for the better of their species. If we are being fair and kind and honest, this is the most we should ask and hope for.
I am excited when people see the pictures and say, "Wow, what a beautiful bird" or "You're so lucky!" because it means that people are impressed and do care. What I want to tell people is that while I do feel incredibly grateful that I am able to do this, it isn't luck and you may be able to do it too. There are organizations that need and want volunteers. That are desperate for dependable people who are willing to to learn and put the time in to make a difference for these birds. If you have an interest you may want to check out a local wildlife rehab or wildlife education organization. It isn't "easy" work. There is a lot more that is involved than just holding birds. I also go once a week and clean enclosures, feed birds, pick up their leftovers (body parts), prepare their meals (gut and cut up rodents and quail or chicks), hold birds for various procedures and sometimes help with upgrades and other work around their enclosures. It's hard and sometimes my back hurts after and I am tired and dirty, but it's worth it because I know that what I am doing is making a difference. It isn't just bodies and work that is needed either money is needed too. Our food bill can run $800 to $1000 per month! So, just getting the word out, sharing about us and other groups, donating money, letting people know about things like not using rat poison and the advantages of putting up nest boxes is all important too. It's all so worth it, for this...