Saving Raptors – Education for the Whole Family
Nature center rehabilitates 300 birds a year
By Craig Reed
A hawk, an owl and a falcon are part of the welcoming committee at the Cascades Raptor Center. Guapo, a 3-year-old Swainson’s hawk, Ravi, a 14-year-old Western screech owl, Pip, a 6-year-old Peregrine falcon along with 50 other birds are permanent residents at Cascades Raptor Center, a nature center and a wildlife hospital that specializes in raptor rehabilitation.
The center features one of the largest collections of native raptor species in the Pacific Northwest. There are eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, ospreys, vultures and much more.
Visitors can view the birds of prey in large outdoor aviaries at the center off Fox Hollow Road on the southeast side of Spencer Butte.
“We have some amazing ambassadors here,” says Kit Lacy, a bird curator at the center. “I believe the birds help people see the world in a different view.”
The center’s avian residents also serve as education ambassadors. They can be seen in their aviaries or they make road trips with staff members to visit classrooms and special events.
Workers at the center rehabilitate 300 birds on average, per year. The emphasis is getting baby birds back to their nest and into the wild.
Raptors end up at the center for rehabilitation for a variety of reasons: sickness, starvation, being hit by cars, flying into windows, getting tangled in fences, being shot, electric shock or suffering from lead or rodent poisoning. “We pride ourselves on individualized care for every bird that comes in,” says Louise Shimmel, founder and executive director for the center. “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to euthanize the bird, but that decision is based on 30 years of experience.”
Louise says the center and its staff are able to rehab and save about half of the injured or sick raptors that come to the facility.
“When a person finds an injured bird, we’re here to tell them it matters,” Kit says. “We’ll care for the birds. Sometimes it’s a tough decision. We never want that to be the outcome, but sometimes for the individual bird, you have to believe that with euthanasia you’re providing mercy for that animal.”
The center is open to the public year-round. Educational programs can be scheduled for on-site and off-site for groups of all ages.
“Our mission is to foster a connection between people and the birds of prey,” Louise says. “We want to promote an appreciation, respect and stewardship of the natural world.”
Kit says it is important for people to see the birds up close.
“People can see that the birds have personalities,” she says. “They provide an opportunity to open people’s eyes to what is going on with their species around the world. I can sum up our mission in one word: connection. We want to help people connect with the wild world. We feel we do that very well here.”
The center averages 30,000 visitors a year.
“The visitors represent many cultures,” Louise says. “Most cultures in the world have raptor myths and legends. The raptors just really speak to people, and they have for years.”
Louise was a wildlife rehabilitator for Willamette Wildlife Rescue in the 1980s. She soon became the raptor rehabilitation specialist for the group. Because of her love for the birds and experience, she founded the raptor center in 1987. It was incorporated in 1990 and moved to its present 8-acre forested site in 1994 after the city of Eugene bought the property.
“The city thought it would be great to have a nature facility here, so it created a deal for us,” Louise says. “Travel Lane County considers us a primary attraction that brings people to the area, keeps them overnight and benefits the economy of the area.”
The center is not government-funded but is supervised by state and federal wildlife services agencies. Donations, memberships, financial adoptions of the birds, admission fees, grants, the gift shop and fundraising events all contribute to the center’s operating costs.
Twelve year-round paid staff members and about 120 volunteers care for the raptors. Volunteers contribute more than 20,000 hours a year. The success of the center resulted in a development plan, which includes more aviaries, more trails through the property, better access and improved parking areas.
“We’re pleased we’re in a position to grow,” Louise says. “We’re forced to grow because of our own success. I have a tendency as the founder to look over what has been accomplished to what hasn’t been accomplished. Our feeling is that we can continue to make a positive impact for the raptors.”
Kit says Louise deserves a lot of credit for the success of the center.
“In 30 years, Louise created something out of nothing,” Kit says. “Now we have an organization that is respected not only in Oregon for its work with raptors, but across the U.S. She’s created an organization that is a leader in working with raptors.”
Find information on the center at www.cascadesraptorcenter.org.