My co-op at the Glen Helen Raptor Center has been such a rewarding experience. I feel as if I’ve learned how to appreciate myself as much as I’ve learned to appreciate working itself and coming to understand that environment. I’ve met some truly amazing people, who are incredibly dedicated to wildlife conservation and the constant care of the birds at the center. We take in about 300 birds a year and basically all the care for them is provided by various interns that literally live on site and our wonderful director, Rebecca. All of the ambassador birds, those at the front of the center and who the public gets to see, are looked after every single day for the rest of their lives. Some days are harder than others and I can’t think of a better description for it all than “labor of love”.
The mission at the RC is “to improve the welfare of raptors across Ohio through educating the public about birds of prey, wildlife, and conservation issues, and through the rehabilitation of injured raptors across Southwestern Ohio.” (https://www.glenhelen.org/raptor-center)
I try to assist in this each day by engaging in tasks such as picking up leftovers from the night prior when the nocturnal birds (entirely made up of owls) have eaten, raking and general spot cleaning of enclosures, feeding of the diurnal species (such as hawks, falcons, and vultures) at around noon, and setting up an education booth for the public to come ask questions and check out what we’re all about. I lay out items such as wings, talons, and x-rays of various raptor species to try and engage visitors as much as I can. It brings me a lot of joy to see how excited the little kids visiting get about being able to touch a real (ethically sourced) great horned owl wing or see the head of a red tailed hawk up close and feel the sharpness of the beak.
I do my best each day to try and help out with any other necessary chores as well, asking others working there if they need any help with day to day tasks. I’ve scrubbed nesting boxes, scrubbed carpets, washed carriers, taken carriers apart, put carriers back together, assisted with mopping; you would be surprised how much cleaning and care has to get done behind the scenes. However, my favorite part has to be bonding with the animals. Now there are some enclosures that need someone more trained than I to enter into, whether that’s due to the particular resident being temperamental or if specific training is occurring and there needs to be consistency and routine with that animal. But others are quite amenable to human interaction, as long as you don’t pester them. Our oldest barred owl, Ari, will even talk to you if he feels you deserve one of his “wisdoms” as I like to call them. Our black vulture, Woof, will come closer to the front of the enclosure while I speak to him on the outside, even cocking his head to one side when I ask him questions. I think that’s all a part of the magic of the center itself. It gives people a safe, easy way to connect with creatures they wouldn’t otherwise get to. They get to know them on a more personal level, they get to understand their special little quirks and why they matter so much, not only as a being all their own but as a species.
If you can make these connections with people, one day maybe they’ll see a red tailed hawk or a peregrine falcon out somewhere, hurt and scared, and think “I know how wonderful and majestic a creature like that is. It needs help and care, and I’m able to get it somewhere it can receive those things.” Places like the Glen Helen Raptor Center help give people a reason to care and I can’t honestly think of a better thing to teach or a better concept for people to learn. I’ve always believed in the compassion found in working with animals, and this experience only furthers that belief in me. Conservation is something that I believe in with every fiber of my being, helping rehabilitate those who are eligible for release or fostering this bond between people and ambassador animals will always be my single greatest joy in life. Seeing how much people care gives me a lot of hope.