Raptors: Not so Intimidating After All 

Before arriving at the Wildlife Center of Virgina for my rehabilitation externship, I had many preconceived notions about what my favorite species to work with would be. I was most excited to work with orphaned mammals and least excited to work with raptors. Little did I know, in just 12 short weeks, raptors would become some of my favorite patients. 

Prior to beginning my 12-week externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, the only experience I had with wildlife was working with sea turtles. While this knowledge was helpful to me with our numerous patient turtles, I felt nervous and intimated to handle raptors. During my training, I was hesitant to even be in the same enclosure with large raptors.  

Initially, I hated being assigned pick-up and exercise [daily duties for the rehabilitation team] because that meant I had to spend most of my day with raptors.  Pick-up consists of going into patient and education ambassador enclosures and picking up the remaining food. When we have patients that are nearing time for release, we also exercise them by following them around their enclosure to make them fly a designated number of laps. This helps ensure that they are well-equipped to survive in the wild again.  

After working with the same raptors week after week, I slowly began to understand their different personalities -- who is aggressive, who is stubborn and will never willingly fly during exercise, who will fly at your face when you enter their enclosure! Every raptor I encountered in my 12 weeks had their own quirks, while still maintaining the distinct character traits of their species.  

I think the turning point came about halfway through my externship when I was weighing patient raptors. I was still a little hesitant around raptors at this point, so I took a more experienced extern with me to help weigh some of our larger raptors. We had successfully weighed all but one Great Horned Owl. This was the largest raptor I had yet to weigh (with the biggest talons, I might add) and I was feeling a little intimidated. After successfully catching the owl and bringing him to the scale, we began to wrap the owl in one of our weighing wraps. These wraps safely secure the raptor's wings and head and are used for our safety and theirs. Just as we let go of the raptor to get an accurate weight, he decided to hop off the scale and run away ... straight into a wall. After giving him a quick look over to make sure that he was uninjured, I couldn’t help but laugh. Moments ago I was intimidated by an owl that was a thousand times more intimidated by me. After this experience, I looked at raptors in a whole new light and before long, I was volunteering to handle raptors any chance I was given. 

I have truly gained so much from my time at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. I gained an immense amount of knowledge about wildlife, made incredible memories, and met many unique and wonderful people along the way. From working with raptors, mammals, turtles, songbirds and many more, my appreciation for wildlife has grown exponentially.  My externship has given me many things over these past 12 weeks, but one of the things I am most thankful for is gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for native wildlife. 

WCV Class of 2017