Most of our encounters with birds are from a distance- up in a tree, soaring high above, but that quickly changes for visitors to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw.
Falcons, vultures, and owls literally fly overhead to perches & volunteers’ gloved arms, while Stephen Schabel, the Director of Education at the center, gives insight to these often misunderstood birds.
“It’s important to realize that not that long ago, humans looked at all our predatory animals as threats. Birds of prey weren’t always the animals that you came to a place like this to learn more about,” Schabel explains.
This will certainly be the highlight of their visit, but this is just one way how the center cares for our flighted friends.
“The idea in the educational programs is to teach people the lessons we’re learning in this building. This is a building where we provide care to about a thousand birds every year. People still hold onto these ideas that it’s best to shoot all the hawks or the owls. Nowadays, most of the injuries we see are unintentional.”
Intentional or not, birds arrive with problems that are largely human related. Entangled by fishing lines, shot, poisoned, even covered in oil they’re treated- many released, while others are unfit for release into the wild and kept as permanent residents of the Center.
Countless red tailed hawks, barred owls, turkey vultures, and other birds that call the Lowcountry skies home have been helped since the center’s opening in 1991. They in turn have helped researchers understand how the natural environment is fairing here in the Lowcountry. The proverbial “canary in a coal mine” is actually a bird in this case- illustrating how our actions have consequences. Schabel explains, “We’re pretty certain that nothing we do is going to come without some cost, it might have positive impacts on the environment, it might be negative. Again birds as these great indicators tell us what’s happening in a pretty succinct way.”
Take vultures for example. Vultures and other incredibly important avian species are unwillingly and indirectly poisoned after ingesting their prey- rats killed by pesticides to clear them from our homes.
To better understand what birds can tell us about the world we share and how our actions impact them, be sure to visit for yourself. They’ve reopened their gates to limited tours and flight demonstrations Thursday and Saturday mornings, for more information and tickets, head to thecenterforbirdsofprey.org.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson