Enraptured by Raptors
As a child, Erich Neupert, Executive Director of Blackland Prairie Raptor Center (BPRC), spent weeks with his grandmother who grew up with the founders of Cornell Ornithology, where she also attended college. Neupert is the proud owner of his grandmother’s original ornithology books. This youthful steeping into all things ornithological was how his passion for raptors began.
Today, as he walks the BPRC, he bursts forth interesting facts about every raptor past and present that has been in the center, as well as how they are preparing for future raptor guests.
During a tour, which included the clinic, volunteer Karen Mitchell held a Cooper’s hawk while Rehab Manager, Liz Dunn tweezer fed him. Dunn was concerned because she had heard a gurgling sound from him when he fed. This raptor has a trauma to his body, most likely due to running into something. Dry erase boards line the walls of the clinic detailing each raptor’s care and are categorized into three sections: small ICU, large bird ICU and nursery.
Neupert explained that currently they do not have any babies in the nursery, but in the spring that number will reach beyond 200. Staff and volunteers are fastidious when it comes to not imprinting on the babies. They dress in head to toe camouflage, including covering their face, and are silent when tending to the babies. Neupert explains that a baby bird does not imprint on scent, but on sight. If it sees you, then it associates itself with you and thinks ‘I’m like you.’ Once that association has been made, it cannot survive in the wild.
The rehab portion of the center began two years ago. In 2016, they received 400 patients. By December 2017, they received 744 injured, sick or orphaned birds of prey. BPRC is now in the top 7 raptor centers in the country based on the number of patients. One of Neupert’s favorite rehab success stories involves a Red Tail hawk they received and released last year. This bird had flown through the incinerator flame of a landfill and melted all of its feathers. Neupert explained that because feathers are hollow they were able to take feathers from a deceased Red Tail Hawk, and through a procedure called imping, they epoxy glued the full feathers onto the damaged wings. They replaced 52 feathers. Neupert reports with a wide smile and arms outstretched in wing like fashion, “When the injured bird was able, he stretched out his wings as if to say, “I’ve got feathers!”” (When procedures such as this occur, BPRC volunteers are invited to observe in order to broaden their education.)
Currently they are caring for an injured Snowy Owl. He was found at a North Texas airport with an injured wing and emaciated. Neupert explained that it is very rare for a Snowy Owl to be in North Texas. He said that they have headed south due to a lack of food supply. When they get here, they don’t know what their food source is. They go to the airport because it offers a tundra-like ecosphere which they are accustomed to. BPRC is pleased that this male, who weighs approximately three pounds, has been hunting live mice. Soon, they will bring him to a facility in Minnesota for a release in an appropriate habitat.
Neupert often, and proudly, points out how much he values the volunteers. He boasts that they built everything at the center. He informs that many volunteers are cross-trained; they want the volunteers to learn everything they want to learn. There are three staff members and 60 volunteers who run BPRC. Volunteers need to be 16 years old or older, work at least four hours a week, have a passion for helping and the ability to handle many types of food for the birds.
Before a raptor is released it must pass mouse school (hunt live food) and have good flight (symmetrical flight) and an owl must fly silently.
When BPRC began in 2004, the goal was “…to create a place where the people of North Texas could learn, experience and appreciate birds of prey and understand their importance in the environment as a whole.” (bpraptorcenter.org). Sixteen birds are used for educational purposes by BPRC. These birds, for various reasons, cannot be released into the wild. Educational programs come in many forms. They host raptor presentations as well as guided hikes through native Blackland Prairie at their fantastic park that has an amphitheater, restrooms and trails located at Brockdale Park (1625 Brockdale Park Road.- cross streets: Lucas Road (FM 3286) & Brockdale Park Road.) They also bring the educational raptors to schools, home school groups, youth organizations, libraries, scouts and much more. Each year they present to more than 30,000 people. On May 19, photographers, for a $20 donation, will have the opportunity to photograph these 16 stunning raptors in an up-close natural setting.
BPRC is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. Donations are welcome.
To see their upcoming BPRC events, read records on current patients, volunteer and/or donate go to bpraptorcenter.org.