KWC NEWS
KWC Students Volunteer at Raptor Center

[This story from the Messenger-Inquirer focuses on the Western Kentucky Raptor Center. KWC zoology students who volunteer at the Center are mentioned near the end.]

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer

Being a volunteer at the Western Kentucky Raptor Center "is a yucky, nasty job," says Reggie Helm, the center's volunteer coordinator.

He doesn't sugarcoat what the job entails.

"The birds have to eat -- rain, sleet or snow -- so you are always out in the elements," Helm said. "You have to handle dead carcasses, such as mice, squirrels, rabbits and deer.

"You have to clean nasty cages," he said, "cut up meat and help with a mangled, bloody, injured animal. On occasion, you have to be in a cage with a wild predator who is angry and does not fear or like you. Then, there is the usual stuff like taking out the trash, sweeping, mopping, etc."


Helm lets that sink in.

"Sounds rewarding, doesn't it?" he asks. "But it is."

Helm has been a volunteer at the Raptor Center at Yellow Creek Park since it opened four years ago.

"When you become a volunteer," he said, "you are ignorant of birds of prey, and afraid of them. But, within a year, you may find yourself holding a redtail (hawk) on your wrist and giving a talk at Yellow Creek Park on a Sunday afternoon."

Or, Helm said, "you may be going to rescue an injured bird on a farm or in a building, But, the ultimate reward is when you get a bird on its deathbed and, three months later, you have helped it heal and then get to release it.

"It's a wonderful feeling when you see it soar off into the heavens. You feel like you made a difference in the world."

The center has 15 volunteers now and can always use more, Eric Miller, the center's director, said recently.

Since 2006, he recently told Daviess Fiscal Court, the center has treated more than 160 birds of prey.

Sixty-five of them have been treated this year, Miller said.

That breaks down as 15 redtail hawks, 14 great horned owls, 11 American kestrels, 10 screech owls, six barred owls, five Coopers hawks, two barn owls and one merlin (falcon) and one turkey vulture, he said.

The redtail hawks were mostly young birds migrating through the area, Miller said.

"We will begin 2011 by preparing for the young owls typically born in late winter and early spring," he said.

By Dec. 7, Miller said, the center had achieved a release rate for the year of 58 percent -- meaning that those birds had been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

What happened to the other 42 percent?

"Federal guidelines for the rehabilitation of raptors are very clear," Miller said. "If a raptor cannot be released, it must be euthanized or transferred to a foster parent or an educational program -- if it meets certain standards. We have four such educational birds at Yellow Creek."

The center recently opened a rehabilitation complex for eagles. But it has yet to get an injured eagle to work with.

The time will come soon, Miller predicted.

"We know there is a nest near Audubon State Park" in Henderson, he said. "We also have frequent sightings of bald eagles around Owensboro along the river. I have seen several and have seen photos of an eagle perched at Reid's Orchard and at OMU.

"I have had several reports of a nest along the river between Owensboro and Lewisport, but I have no proof."

Eagles, he said, "remain a protected species and it is illegal to get too close to a nest site."

The eagle rehab complex is actually the first phase of what the center needs, Miller said.

It was built by Eagle Scout Clint Berry.

"We are looking for another enthusiastic Eagle Scout to lead Phase 2," he said. "Phase 2 is the addition of several mews for injured birds and a small raptor flight cage for screech owls or kestrels."

Miller said the center's educational programs were attended by 1,721 people this year.

The center also works with local college students who want to gain experience in working with raptors.

"We currently have several zoology students from Kentucky Wesleyan who are active volunteers," Miller said. "My personal goal in 2011 is to expand our partnership with higher educational institutions."

"It's a great chance for people who want to get a veterinarian, biology or zoology degree to work with wildlife and not have to travel," Helm said.

Although the center is at Yellow Creek Park, "not a dime of county money has gone into this program," Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire said. "But it's a good asset for the county."

For information or to volunteer, send an e-mail to [email protected].

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