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Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle - Robert Kemmerlin

Birds of Prey

Robert Kemmerlin | E-Mail | Posted 9-17-09

My interest in birds of prey began at an early age when I ran across a book at the library called "Lost on Hawk Mountain", Follett Pub. Co., 1954. It was a story about a boy stranded on top of a mountain and how he trapped and trained a hawk to carry a rescue message to a falconer friend who flew his birds in a large field at the base of the mountain. I must have read that book a dozen times.

Several years later when I was in high school, a wildlife park near my home went out of business and I agreed to re-habituate a red-tailed hawk that had been caged there for several years.

I taught the bird how to fly (again) and how to capture live game. Over the course of several months the hawk seemed to have learned these basic tasks and was released. Watching him fly off I remember wondering whether or not he would survive in the wild.

One should realize this brief period of my life was not like one of those Disney animal movies. I bonded with the bird, but the bird did not bond with me. The hawk really didn't like being handled at all, but I needed to strengthen his wings which were initially very weak.

We fed the bird chicken parts and a live rodent when I could get one. He was kept in a cage about 8 ft high and 8 ft square. I actually had to walk into the cage to retrieve the animal for training, which is a daunting task for a 14 year old boy. His talons and beak were very sharp and dangerous looking. I got pretty good at retrieving the bird, but the hawk didn't like me in the cage and overall just didn't like me.

Training included actual flight time with the bird tethered. Initially he could only go about 15 to 20 ft. I would also hold the bird above my head and let him flap his wings. This was good exercise and allowed me to judge his lifting power. During my time with the bird I flew him every day. After 4 or 5 months the bird increased his flight distance to a couple of hundred feet ... all the tether I had.

Eventually his behavior in the cage changed from being somewhat passive to frequently trying to fly. After observing the bird crash into the cage a couple of times, dad and I decided it was time to release him. In the end I think it was good the hawk didn't bond with me, that was a sign he still had his wilderness spirit. I wish I had known more about what I was doing but I did the best that I could as a 14 year old. It seemed that nobody else cared. All I wanted was to give him a chance to survive. Though in all probability he did not.

It's been nearly 40 years since that summer and that story would have ended differently if we had rescue centers specializing in birds of prey like we have today. In South Carolina there is just such a facility, the Center for Birds of Prey located in Awendaw, SC.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl - Robert Kemmerlin

Originally called the Charleston Raptor Center, it was founded in 1991 and operated in a small location on a limited budget. In 2002 Joseph Rice, a local Charleston attorney donated 152 acres in Charleston County as the future site of the Center for Birds of Prey. Since then through much effort and many generous donations, an extraordinary amount of progress has been made building the facility, including construction of a 7000 sq foot Avian Medical Center/Oiled Bird Treatment Facility.

This is the only facility of its kind on the East Coast designed to treat native bird populations in the case of oil spill accidents.

Each year nearly 400 injured hawks, eagles, owls, and other birds of prey, are taken in for medical treatment due to some type of human interaction. After receiving an advanced level of care, most of these birds are released back into the wild.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk - Robert Kemmerlin

Some of the birds are injured too severely to survive in the wild and are housed at the Center's many avian enclosures. Bird types are housed together so there are owl enclosures, kite enclosures, falcon enclosures, and eagle enclosures; I think you get the idea. There are currently more than 30 different species of raptors housed at the center.

They also have two flying fields where many of the birds are exercised twice a day. Before each flight, the birds that will be flown are weighted to ensure they are at the correct flying weight. Each bird has a very small radio transmitter and a bell attached to help the staff locate the bird if it decides to not return after its flight.

The Center for Birds of Prey offers visitors an educational experience delving into the lives and abilities of their birds. They provide guided walking tours, educational programs, and flight demonstrations. For the photographer these flight demonstrations offer a rare chance to be able to get close-up shots that you'll never be able to get in the wild. I've been there 4 times, and each time I had a great time. This is a great place to increase your birding knowledge and possibly get in some photography.

The following is a link to their website, Center for Birds of Prey. The web page provides information such as directions to the facility, visitor hours, and admission fees.

Please go and check the place out, you will not be sorry.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl - Robert Kemmerlin


Perigrine Falcon - Robert Kemmerlin


Kestrel - Robert Kemmerlin

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