For nearly three years I was proud to utter this sentence:
“I volunteer at a raptor rescue.”
To which, every once in a while the person I was talking to would reply with a grin:
“Like, . . . Velociraptors?!”
And we would have a good laugh and I would picture myself teaching a Velociraptor how to read and write . . .
But no, I volunteered at a rescue and rehab facility for birds of prey. Birds like eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, and sometimes turkey vultures and some other species. I discovered this non-profit when I was looking for a place to volunteer my time for animal welfare, and I really liked that this facility is NOT open to the public. Since I work in the public sector in communications, my time is often spent educating the public. I want my volunteer time to be just me, the animals, and my thoughts. But the main reason I chose to volunteer here is because I have always been drawn to birds, especially big birds like raptors.
So I went several times a month, on Sunday mornings, 30 minutes north, to a quiet and peaceful outdoor facility that is perfect for birds to recover from injuries and illness. Those Sundays became my ‘church’. Working outside, and being alone in an enclosure with a large bird and feeling its energy–that’s when I felt spiritual. I focused on the sound of Red-tailed Hawk wings beating the frosty air in the winter, right above my head. I listened as the talons of a Great Horned Owl grasped the wooden perch as it flew to it. And it was so silent in flight that I didn’t even know it had left the other perch overhead until I heard it hit the other side. I savored the view of the Golden and Bald Eagle’s wings outstretched as they soared across the enclosure. I could hear the tips of their feathers cut the air; feel the wind in my hair. I chuckled at the ridiculous sounds the Peregrine Falcons made when they were irritated at one another. Every sight and sound while I worked inside the enclosures brought joy and wonder to my soul.
I never touched them; volunteers were not permitted. So it’s an exercise in loving from afar. Helping an animal you will never get to touch. It teaches you contentment. To be happy with what you do get to experience.
I saw foster mother birds taking in orphans and nurturing them like their own. Then the babies would grow up and be able to be released into the wild. I saw five Barn Owls huddled next to each other, sleeping peacefully. Their colors reminded me of vanilla and butterscotch swirled together. I witnessed Great Horned Owls scuffle and look so visibly annoyed at being crowded on the perch that I had to giggle. And I also saw things that made my heart break. You see, the majority of the reasons that the birds end up there is because of . . .
I also enjoyed the hard, physical work that was involved. Not every time, mind you. Some days, in the hot summer sun, raking and stooping and carrying and pulling and lifting is really exhausting and tough on the back. But afterward it was always rewarding to know I was helping, and to feel my muscles fatigued.
I did things there that I never thought I could do. Which pretty much all pertained to what the birds ate and cleaning up after them. No need to go into details there, but let’s just say I learned a lot about anatomy and got over squeamishness real quick.
I’m writing this now because I recently made the tough decision to stop volunteering for a while. I have added some other big things to my life and needed to create balance in order to be happy and fulfilled. I read somewhere that you don’t try to find balance, you create it for yourself. And as much as I loved being there to help the birds, I knew other areas of my life would suffer, and my stress levels would increase by trying to do too much. I am so grateful for all I learned there, the people I met, and how the experience profoundly changed me.
So, it’s farewell, good flight, to the beloved birds–for now. I would like to return at some point. I just need to get my hawks in a row.
Read about the Birds of Prey Foundation and donate to them if you are able. I can promise you the money is much appreciated and very needed.
Note: all photos in this post are my own. Photos inside the rescue facility are not permitted, so I am showing you examples of raptors out in the wild, or in some cases, right in your urban backyard.