What is it you do and how did you come to volunteer here?
I’ve volunteered throughout my life and find it very rewarding. About two and a half years ago I was looking for an organization or charity that I could support. I love the outdoors and so when this opportunity came along it seemed the perfect fit; plus, it’s close to where I live. I volunteer at the center several times a month. When I started, I was mainly working in reception and supporting guest relations. In the last year I’ve moved across more to education, bird handling, cleaning, and feeding. With the education side of things, we provide a mix of everything from school tours to helping scouts achieve their badges. We also have an owl prowl at night which is designed more for adults.
Can you tell us a little about the center?
It’s called the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and is based in central Florida. It’s focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing birds of prey. The main species it cares for are; hawks, falcons, kites, osprey, vultures, eagles and owls. These are all native breeds to Florida. We also provide education to visitors talking about migratory patterns, water conversation and the impact of environmental change on the surrounding natural world around us. The center takes in around 700 birds every year and it takes 60 volunteers to keep the place running.
Do you have any favorites?
We have a number of resident birds who cannot be released and so they form a central part of the education program. There’s an osprey called Hank and a bald eagle called Frank (Francis). He’s been at the center since 1991 and is very particular about who he’ll allow to handle him. I’m hoping one day I can get to the point where I am one of them. A lot of people are afraid of the eagles because of their size so you do have to work up to handling them. They grow to three feet long with a wingspan of six to eight feet. The center has a very strict safety policy, and the wellbeing of the birds always comes first. Everyone who works here must go through very extensive training.
What have your experiences shown you about sustainability and conservation?
In Florida we have so much construction and development that it’s important we have protected areas. Animals are usually brought into the center because of human activity which is creating habitat loss. This includes cutting down trees and sustaining injuries from fishing lines where the birds get caught in the line and try to break free. The most frequent injury though is from car strikes, especially for vultures, which feed off the carrion left on the road or at the side.