The Alaska Raptor Center: Local Wildlife Conservation in Action
In Southeast Alaska, bald eagles are commonplace; they perch on spruce trees, swoop over parking lots, and glide over the vast expanses of water that define this landscape. Ravens are another constant here in Sitka, sometimes called Raven town, ever-present on car and buildings, and an ancient trickster in Tlingit myth. These birds are so common that it is sometimes easy to forget our impact upon them, and that many end up injured because of human activities.
The Alaska Raptor Center, located in Sitka, has been rehabilitating injured birds since the eighties. The idea began when a local falconer and conservationist began caring for injured birds in an old tool shed and gained momentum when he was able to successfully return some of the birds to the wild.
The center has since evolved into an expansive and high-functioning facility that includes a dozen outdoor habitats, a spacious indoor flight center where recovering birds build wing strength, a small presentation room, a vet clinic, office space, and spaces for the various owls, hawks, falcons, eagles and ravens that are full time residents. Current eagle patients include Lucky, who earned his name after crashing into a float plane but suffered no broken bones, Vulcan who lost one eye to a beebee gun, Jackson who became hypothermic and too depleted to fly after falling through thin ice, and Bug, a two-month-old who fell out of the nest. The Center recently hosted conservationist Jeff Corwin, of Animal Planet fame, to release one of the centers fully recovered eagles.
The Alaska Raptor Center’s mission is threefold: to educate the public, to rehabilitate birds, and to conduct research. The Center not only helps conserve and treat intelligent and majestic birds like bald eagles, but is also a significant employer of local Sitkans. Eight people work at the center year-round, and that number doubles in the summer when tourism is in full swing.
The Center is located on 17 acres of land adjacent to the Tongass National Forest. Between 100 and 200 birds become patients there each year, and while many are able to be released into the wild after rehabilitation, some are so severely injured that they become resident raptors. These birds are able to live healthy and productive lives on the Center’s grounds, giving visitors the opportunity to see and appreciate raptors up close.
Executive Director Debbie Reeder encourages the public to become aware of the influences that humans have over our environment. “Many people don’t realize that a thing as simple as a building can have an impact on birds,” she says. About 85% of the injuries treated at the raptor center are caused by humans, though indirectly. Injuries will commonly occur from collisions with windows, buildings, power lines, and cars. By building awareness of the impact humans can have upon raptors, the Raptor Center increases public consciousness of raptor ecology.
The Alaska Raptor Center is an organization that illustrates the potential for conservation to build community, reach out to the American public, and to support local economies. So stop by and show your support for another local conservation non-profit!