November 05, 2018

Photo Essay: Ojai Raptor Center Open House

I will visit an animal rescue and rehabilitation facility any day before I'll buy a ticket to another zoo.

At the Ojai Raptor Center, the priority is to rerelease wayward birds into the wild if possible. Unfortunately, it's not always possible—as is the case with Riley, an Eastern screech owl who got partially blinded in his right eye in Louisville, Kentucky. He can see OK, but not well enough to hunt for his survival. [Ed: It was announced on May 20, 2019 that Riley had passed—age unknown but well over 10 years old.]

Gavin, a peregrine falcon born in 2012, somehow broke his left wing.

It never healed right.

And now he works as an ambassador to teach people about birds of prey.

Born 2005, Bob the American kestrel (once called sparrow hawk, and the most common falcon in North America) suffers from the most preventable injury to a wild bird: He imprinted on humans as a baby.

The same thing happened to Handsome, a turkey vulture born the same year in Louisville, Kentucky. Although their presence seems foreboding (because of their penchant to stack on dead carcasses), turkey vultures are actually very social animals—and because Handsome also imprinted, he can never be released.

As cute as these birds are—and as much as it may seem like they love us—if we try to baby them, even as we rescue them, we fail them.

It was unavoidable with Bailey, a Great Horned Owl born just last year.

She'd been abandoned after she fell out of her nest

And when she was found as a nestling, she had severe infections that needed to be treated.

She needed so much care that the poor baby couldn't help but imprint on her handlers.

And now, she'll never know life in the wild.

Not all the raptors who come to the Ojai Raptor Center make it. Some of those that don't—like the long-eared owl above—get taxidermied and their stuffed bodies help the center educate the public, even after their spirits have passed.

It's probably the one chance most of us will have to pet the exposed belly of a barn owl...

...or get a good, up-close look at its distinctive face.

Of course, it's tragic to view red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks with cotton for eyes and mounted on a stick.

But there's a beauty to the tragedy. At least for the birds who don't survive, it's not all for naught.

Their fragile, dead bodies can teach us to not poison the living with rodenticide, to not make friends with them or cuddle the abandoned babies, to not feed them human food or try to tame them.

We can still admire them—but it's best to do it from afar.

Related Posts:
To Look an Owl in the Eyes
Photo Essay: Walking with a Hawk
Photo Essay: Falcon Flight
Photo Essay: Moore Laboratory of Zoology, Closed to Public
Photo Essay: The Birds of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology

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