While attending WVU for my Forest Resource Management degree, certain classes had a volunteer requirement. For multiple semesters, I volunteered at the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center. I can honestly say my experiences working at this facility were among my most enjoyable during those years of education and personal growth. Prior to working at the raptor rehab center, my identification skills for birds of prey consisted of the Bald Eagle and owls vs. non-owls, while everything else was some variation of a “chicken hawk”. Obviously, I owe my early exposure to raptor education to Foghorn Leghorn!
The main goal of the center was to reach a full recovery of the bird’s injury or ailment and release it back in to the wild. At first, I wondered why this place would have such a mission. Didn’t they have any concern for the local chickens? Ok, so I wasn’t really that naïve, but I did learn that eagles, owls, falcons and other hawks (even those of the chicken variety), actually preferred rodents and other small mammals for their meals. I’d go for the chicken, personally. Anyway, not all of these birds were able to return to the wild. Permanent residents of the center became part of an education program that would visit schools, youth camps and other events to raise awareness about these finely tuned hunters. A typical day at the center would consist of cleaning the cages and cutting up rats to feed to the raptors. It took a while for the permanent residents of the center to get used to me, but once they did I learned how to handle them and even helped with a number of educational opportunities.
Once, a lady even brought in several juvenile Turkey Vultures. How she got them to the center, or why, I’ll never know. I also don’t know if these nasty creatures became my project because the center had begun to trust me with more responsibility, or no one else had the stomach to deal with them (not claiming that I did either). Regardless, I would show up every morning, cut up their rats and feed them, put on my gloves and carry them to the flight cages where they would exercise their wings. After a couple months of this routine, the director of the center took the young vultures to an undisclosed location and released them back into the wild.
A week or so later, I returned to my dormitory from class to discover quite a ruckus. A couple young Turkey Vultures had been sunning themselves on the upper community deck of the building and seemed unafraid; maybe even a bit intimidating toward the students wishing to gather outside. It also seems that the students had propped the door open when they retreated to notify campus police and report the unwanted guests. Wouldn’t you have guessed, by the time campus police arrived, the vultures had made their way inside the dormitory.
The following events might remind you of one of those “…no, but I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night” commercials, but I assure you, they are true! I approached one of the policemen trying to shoo the birds back down the hall and out the open door, told him I had a knack for this kind of thing and asked if I could try. He replied by saying, “knock yourself out, kid. But be careful, those things will puke at you!” Didn’t I know it!
We were about 20 miles away from the center, but I had to test my theory; wondering if there was a possibility these vultures were among the group I had previously worked with. I slowly walked behind the birds, squatted and placed my forearms behind their legs and voila! Both vultures stepped up on my arms! I carried them out to the sun deck, walked to the edge of the balcony and tossed my arms up to release the birds into the air. After a brief moment of watching them soar away, I turned to see the two campus policemen among a dozen or more bystanders, all of whom had dumbfounded looks on their faces. I never said a word, just quietly walked to the bathroom and began scrubbing my arms and hands. Could it be that my young vulture friends had found me to bid a proper adieu? I’m not so sure, but while I didn’t shed a tear to see them go, I think I may have thrown up just a little.
Speaking of raptors and other “chicken hawks”, I would like to inform you that FISTA is offering a special SFI Training Workshop not listed on the original schedule. This class, entitled “Forest Raptors”, will focus on how forest management relates to raptor habitat (even “chicken hawks”, I think). It will take place at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, April 30th and is limited to 20 participants. Class will begin at 8am. To register for this workshop, simply send in your registration form and payment like you would any other FISTA organized SFI Workshop, with the correct date, time and course name. For questions, or more information, please call our office at 715-282-4979. No chickens, please.
Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University. Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments. He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA. For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.