Education Animals

Bald Eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus

This eagle hatched on April 27, 2008, at a nest at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. Thousands of individuals around the world followed his life through “EagleCam” — a web-based camera — and soon noticed a lump developing on the side of the bird’s beak. In May 2008, the eagle was taken from his nest and admitted as a patient at the Wildlife Center. Lab tests revealed that the lesion on his beak was Avian Pox. Despite an all-out effort by Center veterinarians, the pox lesion caused a permanent misalignment in the bird’s beak, which will need to be trimmed periodically for the rest of the eagle’s life. In August 2009, the Norfolk Bald Eagle was declared non-releasable; in April 2010 he was officially named “Buddy”. Buddy is one of the Center's most famous education ambassadors and travels to programs and events around the state. He can also be seen on Critter Cam!

Read More about Buddy »

American Kestrel
Falco sparverius

Edie came to the Wildlife Center in May 2005. She was found as an orphan in Roanoke, Virginia after her nest tree was damaged in a storm. She was kept by her rescuers for several days before being taken to a local wildlife rehabilitator. After several weeks of observation at the Wildlife Center, our veterinary staff determined that she was imprinted on humans. Young birds visually imprint on their caregiver and thereafter identify with that species for life; Edie was with her rescuers during this critical imprinting stage of her life. Due to the behavioral changes brought on by her imprinting, Edie cannot be released back into the wild.

American Kestrel
Falco sparverius

This kestrel hatched in the spring of 2016 and was admitted to the Center with his two siblings after their nesting tree was cut down. The birds were not able to be reunited with their parents and were transferred to a permitted wildlife rehabilitation facility. Despite being raised with other kestrels, Verlon imprinted on humans, which means he cannot be released back to the wild. He joined the education ambassador team in the fall of 2016.

The naming rights for Verlon were auctioned off at the 2016 gala & benefit auction. The winner chose to name the kestrel in honor of her mother.

Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus

Maggie hatched in the spring of 2014 – atop a building in downtown Richmond that was on the Richmond Falcon Cam. Two days after fledging from her nest, the young falcon crashed into a building, severely damaging her left eye and fracturing the tip of her beak. Wildlife Center veterinarians treated Maggie’s eye with medication for several weeks, but about a month after admission, the veterinary team had to surgically remove the damaged eye. With only one eye, Maggie cannot see well enough to be released back into the wild.

Maggie’s naming rights were auctioned off at the Center’s annual gala in November 2014. A group of secret schemers pooled their funds and won – and promptly gifted the naming rights to director of outreach Amanda Nicholson, one of Maggie’s trainers. Amanda chose to honor the falcon’s Richmond roots – after all, Peregrine Falcons are not all that common in Virginia, and the nesting Richmond falcons have contributed significantly to the Virginia population. Maggie is named in honor of Richmonder Maggie Walker [1867 – 1934], who was a well-known teacher, the first woman president of a bank, and advocate for people with disabilities.

Maggie has her very own children's book -- check it out in our online shop!

Falco rusticolus

Hudson was transferred to the Wildlife Center in 2017 from another wildlife educator. Although Hudson’s full history is unknown, he was hatched in captivity, likely in 2005, and was used a falconry bird for a number of years before “retiring” as an education bird. In the wild, Gyrfalcons live in extreme Arctic and subarctic climates.  They are very rare visitors to Virginia; a wild Gyrfalcon admitted to the Wildlife Center in 1984 is recognized as the first recorded appearance for the species in Virginia. 

Hudson was named for Hudson Bay, a large body of water in the subarctic region of northern Canada. Gyrfalcons typically breed in the northern region of the Hudson Bay, and winter in the southern portion, where daily high temperatures average below 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Broad-winged Hawk
Buteo platypterus

Grayson was found as a young bird in June of 2010 in Grayson County, Virginia. She had fallen out of the nest and suffered a fractured right humerus, as well as injury to her patagium – the skin covering the leading edge of the wing. Grayson was initially taken to a local permitted wildlife rehabilitator, who stabilized the injury and then brought her to the Wildlife Center. WCV veterinarians sutured the hole in the patagium and bandaged the wing; however, the fracture did not heal completely straight, and scarring on the patagium left Grayson unable to fully extend her wing.

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Ruby was hit by a car in Dayton, Virginia in February 2010. When she arrived at the Center, the veterinary team found a fracture in her left wing as well as severe trauma to her right eye.  After weeks of cage rest and bandaging, her wing healed – but her right eye had to be surgically removed. Unfortunately, with limited vision, Ruby cannot see well enough to be released back into the wild.

In January 2011, the Wildlife Center asked for the help of elementary school children in suggesting names for this hawk. More than 170 names were submitted. The “final five” were put to an online public vote.  The winning name was Ruby.

That name was suggested by Ms. Phelps’ first-grade class at South River Elementary in Grottoes. In submitting the nomination, Ms. Phelps wrote, “We are currently studying Ruby Bridges. The kids thought since Ruby was a brave girl who fought to have a better life and since rubies are red, this would be a good name for a female red-tailed-hawk who also fought for her life.”

As a six-year old girl, Ruby Bridges integrated an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Her experience inspired the iconic painting by Norman Rockwell, The Problem We All Live With.

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Rosalie was transferred to the Wildlife Center in July 2016 from another wildlife rehabilitator. Though Rosalie's full history is unknown, her records indicated that she was previously deemed non-releasable because of arthritis in her left hip. The veterinarians at the Wildlife Center also discovered a "false joint" in her right hip; her hip had luxated at some point and healed improperly, creating scar tissue around the joint and limiting movement of her right leg. Rosalie cannot be released into the wild and became an ambassador at the Wildlife Center in December 2016.

Rosalie was named after Rosalie Barrow Edge -- a suffragist and advocate for wildlife conservation. In 1934, Rosalie Edge founded the first preserve for birds of prey -- Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She was known for her strong personality and fierce activism for birds of prey and other wildlife.

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

In April 2019, this very young Red-tailed Hawk was found with his deceased sibling by the side of the road in Washington County, Virginia. The two nestling birds fell out of their nearby nest after a storm; Rowan had a fractured leg and an injured left eye. He was taken to the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke for treatment and transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in May 2019.

Unfortunately, the trauma to the hawk’s left eye caused permanent vision loss, preventing Rowan's release back to the wild. Center staff started training the hawk in June to become a member of the education ambassador team; training is ongoing and the outreach staff hopes to start this hawk’s outreach career this winter! The hawk’s naming rights were auctioned at the November 2019 Gala; Rowan was the winning bidder's choice. Rowan is an Irish/Scottish name meaning "little red one."

Papa G’Ho
Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Papa G’Ho came to the Wildlife Center from Henrico County, Virginia, in December 2001.  He had sustained injuries to his feet and wings, likely after he was struck by a vehicle. Despite rehabilitation, Papa G’Ho never regained his ability to fly silently, which is critical to the hunting success of owls in the wild. Because noisy flight would inhibit his ability to survive independently, he cannot be released back into the wild. Though he is unable to return to the wild himself, Papa G’Ho plays a very important role at the Wildlife Center as a surrogate parent for any young, orphaned Great Horned Owls that we admit. After their initial examination and treatment, young owlets are moved into Papa G’Ho’s enclosure, where he helps them hone their hunting abilities and develop natural owl behaviors. Our staff takes great care to keep Papa G’Ho from becoming comfortable around humans – by keeping him “wild,” we can ensure that the owlets he raises will survive, and thrive, on their own.

"Papa Bird Nurtures Dozens of Injured Owlets", WAMU 88.5 Radio

Barred Owl
Strix varia

Athena was found on the ground in Richmond in September 2012. An animal control officer picked up the owl and took her to a local permitted rehabilitator.  Athena was weak, uncoordinated, and also had significant retinal degeneration in both eyes. Based on these symptoms, the Center’s veterinarians believe that the owl may have been affected by West Nile Virus. Due to the partial blindness, Athena is non-releasable.

In January 2013, the Center kicked off a naming contest for this new education Barred Owl and solicited suggests from K-12 classrooms from around the world. In total, 86 suggestions were submitted from schools in 13 different states and Canada.  Five names were put to a public vote – the winner was Athena, submitted by Mrs. Hill's 6th-8th grade Wildlife Club at Fort Bragg, NC. "I sent the students to research owls and come back with a suggested name for a girl owl. The key was researching owls and what other cultures believed about them. Three brought the ancient Greek history to me with Athena as a possible name. 'From ancient Athens, the silver four-drachma coin bore the image of the owl on the obverse side as a symbol of the city's patron, Athene Pronoia, the Greek goddess of wisdom who, in an earlier incarnation, was goddess of darkness' [The Owl Pages (Owls in Lore and Culture)]. We know it is a female and are suggesting Athena based on the Greek goddess of wisdom who was also the goddess of darkness!"

Barred Owl
Strix varia

Gus came to the Wildlife Center in April 1994 as a very young owlet. Shortly after hatching, she was found alone and on the ground near Mechanicsville, Virginia, presumably after falling from her nest tree. Her rescuers brought her to their home, intending to keep the young owl as a pet; like many people, they were unaware that it is illegal to keep wild animals in captivity. After several weeks, Gus was discovered by neighbors and removed from the household by the local police, who arranged for transport to the Wildlife Center. Our veterinary staff determined that the constant attention Gus had received from her initial rescuers had left her imprinted on humans. Caretakers must go to great lengths to avoid imprinting young birds, and Gus’s initial rescuers were unaware of this fact. Her imprinted status leaves her unsuitable for release back into the wild.

Previously thought to be a male, Gus’s original full name was “Gustavo”. In early 2013, the Wildlife Center had the opportunity to test Gus’s DNA; results confirmed that Gustavo is actually a female!  After 18 years, the staff couldn’t possibly change the owl’s name, so it’s simply been shortened to “Gus”.

Black Vulture
Coragyps atratus

Buttercup was hatched in captivity in 2004. His parents would not care for him, so he was transferred to a permitted rehabilitator. Unfortunately, while he was under the rehabilitator’s care, Buttercup became imprinted on humans. Birds do not automatically know what they are when they’re born — they visually imprint on their caregivers and identify with that species for life. Buttercup no longer fears people and therefore cannot be released into the wild. Prior to his arrival at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, Buttercup was an educational animal at another facility in Virginia.  He came to the Wildlife Center in September 2011.

In February 2013, the Wildlife Center tested Buttercup's DNA to determine the bird's gender; it was never before been confirmed and had been assumed that Buttercup was a female. The results:  Buttercup is a male!

Read All About Buttercup here.

Virginia Opossum
Didelphis virginiana

Clark was rescued with his brother Lewis in April 2019 after their mother was hit and killed by a car. Despite spending his first two months at the Wildlife Center as a patient in very limited contact with humans, it became clear that both Lewis and Clark remained far too friendly to be released. In July 2019, the decision was made to include both opossums in the Center’s team of outreach ambassadors. Now, Clark can be found living in an outdoor enclosure with Lewis near the Center’s other education opossums; Clark is nearly identical to Lewis, except that Lewis has a small pattern of black markings near the base of his tail.

Clark is named after William Clark – a Virginia native and well-known member of the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. Like those early explorers, opossums are nomadic and rarely stay in one den or nesting site for long.

Pantherophis guttatus

Clifford arrived at the Wildlife Center in December 2016. He was discovered in a Bedford home several months after his former owner died. At first, Clifford exhibited neurologic symptoms, but with several months of care and proper nutrition, as well as a series of diagnostic tests, Clifford began acting normally and was declared healthy. In June 2017, Clifford officially joined the Wildlife Center ambassador team. He is named after noted American herpetologist Clifford Hillhouse Pope, who is known for saying, "snakes are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors."

Eastern Ratsnake
Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Albus was admitted to the Wildlife Center in December 2012. He was rescued by animal control and was taken to a humane society when his former owner moved to an assisted living facility. Because it is unknown how long Albus was in captivity, or where he was originally found, he is unable to be released into the wild.

Eastern Ratsnake
Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Severus was brought to the Wildlife Center in December 2007. He was originally captured in 2004 in the basement of a home, and subsequently passed between several different owners over a period of two and a half years. He was eventually confiscated by the police in Staunton, Virginia and brought to the Wildlife Center. When Severus first arrived at the Wildlife Center he was malnourished and very aggressive, both likely products of his poor living conditions in captivity. Our staff began a rehabilitation regimen to nurse him back to health, but because he had been kept in captivity for such a long time, Severus cannot be released. He is now a healthy and permanent member of the Wildlife Center’s education team.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Heterodon platirhinos

This Eastern Hog-nosed Snake was kept as a pet in Richmond, Virginia. In September 2015, when Oscar was approximately one year old, he was given to the Wildlife Center because his caretaker could no longer care for him. Because we don’t know when or where Oscar was taken from the wild, he can never be released. Reptile pets also often lack the necessary skills to survive in the wild, and introducing them to a new area can introduce disease to the local, native population. In December 2015, the Wildlife Center held a naming contest with K-12 students from throughout the U.S. Oscar was named for the impressive acting abilities of the species and the dramatic “death scenes” that they often employ to evade predators -- truly Oscar-worthy!

Western Hog-nosed Snake
Heterodon nasicus

Elliott is a Western Hog-nosed Snake who was purchased from a breeder in 2018 as a two-year-old snake. He was kept as a pet for about six months, but Elliott’s owner was concerned that he wasn’t happy in her house; she reached out to the Wildlife Center to see if he could be an education ambassador. Since Western Hog-nosed snakes are not native to Virginia, and because Elliott was bred in captivity, he could never be released to the wild.

Because Western Hog-nosed Snakes naturally live in the dry prairies and plains of the central United States – the region that many Americans associate with cowboys – this little hog-nosed snake was named after Sam Elliott, an actor who is well-known for his many roles as the classic American cowboy.

Russian Tortoise
Testudo horsfieldii

Emma came to the Wildlife Center in October 2000. She was found wandering the grounds of the University of Virginia, far from her native desert territory. Most likely an escaped or abandoned pet, Emma could not survive on her own in this climate. Emma now lives at the Wildlife Center and teaches children the importance of leaving native animals in their natural environment.

Woodland Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina

In June 2013, Sheldon was found at the Natural Chimney Park and Campground – her carapace [upper shell] was entirely painted in a variety of bright paints and fingernail polish. She also had an abscess on her back left leg. Over the course of several weeks, Center veterinarians were able to slowly and carefully remove the paint, and also treated her infected leg. By October, Sheldon was healthy and looking more like a box turtle, but staff were never able to determine how long the turtle was with the people who painted her and didn’t know from where Sheldon was taken. She was placed as an education animal at Natural Chimney Park and Campground. In 2019, the park was renovating their store area and transferred her back to the Wildlife Center to be an education turtle.

Woodland Box Turtle
Terrapene carolina

Wilson was found at Maymont Park in Richmond in October 2009. He was likely an unwanted or escaped pet.  When he was found, his entire upper shell had been painted purple. Center veterinary staff painstakingly removed this paint.  However, because Wilson had been kidnapped from an unknown location and had lived for some time as a pet, he cannot be returned to the wild.

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