Hi. I’m Walking Bob, and I had often seen my friend, Christine Adams, at Farmer’s Market sharing information and encouraging people to support and visit the California Raptor Center on the UC Davis campus. I had donated to the cause, but I had never gone to the center, so when I heard they have a Cinco de Mayo Open House on Saturday, May 5, I decided it was time that I paid a visit. You can drive there by following directions at the California Raptor Center website, but when I learned that they’re only about a mile and a half from the Mondavi Center, I knew that I just had to walk.
When I arrived, Christine was leading a trio of college-age volunteers into the cages to feed the birds when I arrived. After watching the turkey vulture and hawks devour yummy rats and mice for a while, I noticed a group of students who were on a tour of the facilities. The young Orangevale students had broken up into three groups to visit the museum, the hands-on classroom and the cages. One group was fascinated by a small saw-whet owl shown here on the gloved hand of volunteer Mel Martinez and getting a close-up in the last photo at the end of this article.
In a classroom and in the museum, the students got a chance to view and touch stuffed raptors, skulls, feathers and other artifacts as they learned more about how to identify and protect the raptors they might come in contact with around Davis. If you were wondering, a raptor is defined as “A bird that captures and kills its prey with taloned feet.” Looking up at a stuffed raptor that seemed to be swooping down for the kill made me glad I wasn’t a rodent, or another bird, that a raptor had chosen for its next meal.
The Open House on May 5 will include a nature walk (bring your binoculars) at 8 a.m. followed by the Open House from 9 to 2 with presentations at 10 a.m. and noon. Numerous handlers will be available to discuss educational raptors they will have with them on gloved hands at this event. Raptors at the center include hawks, eagles, falcons, harriers and owls. The Open House is a twice-a-year opportunity, but the center is open from 9 to 4 on Monday through Friday and from 9 to noon on Saturday if you can’t fit the Open House into your schedule.
In addition to the on-site educational opportunities, volunteers also take the raptors and educational materials to schools and homes around the area. Birds that have an injury or illness that would make it so they couldn’t survive in the wild are used to educate the public about raptors. A good example is Grasshopper, this Swainson’s Hawk with an injured eye that would not allow him to see his prey well enough to hunt.
When a student asked if he could touch Grasshopper, Christine said only if he could answer yes to three questions. Does the bird know you are his friend? Are you wearing a protective glove? Are you trained? No, the boy didn’t touch Grasshopper. She pointed out that these are wild animals, not pets. Christine has been volunteering for over nine years, and she shared some of the times she had been injured, even with her training and experience. While I was there a hawk decided that jumping onto her head would be fun and although she wasn’t injured, the landing did lead to a good scolding of the offending raptor.
The California Raptor Center is dedicated to the protection of raptors, the promotion of their health, and the preservation of their habitat in our ecosystem. In addition to the educational program, they are a support facility for the treatment and rehabilitation of injured raptors, working closely with the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. They also offer opportunities for research, although they’re quick to point out that their studies never include invasive or terminal studies because the welfare of their birds is always a priority. I encourage you to pay them a visit.