Huntersville’s Carolina Raptor Center rehabilitates hurt, sick birds

The Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville rehabilitates hurt and sick birds of prey with the hope of ultimately returning them to the wild.
Raptor Center owl release
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 10:25 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2023 at 9:05 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A journey home.

You may have once been out in the backyard and encountered a baby bird fallen from its nest. It can be a stressful feeling wanting to help but not exactly sure of the right steps to take.

Now imagine coming across a baby owl.

Earlier this summer two young barred owls fell from their nest. A family found them and they were taken to a local refuge. The Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville rehabilitates hurt and sick birds of prey with the hope of ultimately returning them to the wild.

Over the course of this summer photojournalist Gregory Simpson and producer Jack VanderToll watched the Carolina Raptor Center in action following the story of these owls witnessing the sequence from their rehab to a much-awaited release back into their natural home.

There’s a common saying it take a village to raise a child. But what about an owl?

“We take in injured birds, or we take in sick birds. And right now we take in a lot of baby birds,” Kate Shaner, education manager of the Carolina Raptor Center, said.

The Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville is no stranger to raptors in need of help. Staff oversees the conservation and rehabilitation of native and rare birds of prey.

The animal hospital has treated more than 25,000 patients.

In June the center welcomed two young barred owls. The babies fell from their nest and roosted in a rotten tree.

The barred owl is a common voice in North Carolina’s forests. But with habitat under growing pressure from people every chick matters.

Under their care the staff of Raptor Center found themselves becoming surrogate parents. Feeding time comes fast and often.

But parenting young owls goes beyond just a constant supply of food.

Regularly weighing the chicks is crucial to ensuring the birds are gaining strength on a path to return to the wild.

“So we’re going to get a weight on this not-so-baby anymore barred-owl. And what we do is put them in this nice Velcro’s-wrap. That will keep their head covered and keep their wings tucked in their body and basically making an owl burrito. We’ll put it on a scale.”

Staff worked to ensure the owls were maturing in body and mind.

“So what we want to see in birds this age especially for birds that have been in our hospital for a significant amount of time as babies... we want to see these kinds of behaviors. We want to see the clacking of the beak the hissing because that means they have a healthy fear of humans which means they’ll be able to be released.”

Under their care the Center watched the owls grow from chicks to young hunters graduating mouse school. “It’s a five to seven day process, depending upon how many mice we have, actually.”

“Everything looks nice and clear. Nice adult owl eyes.” Like all parents the day comes when it’s time to say good-bye.

“It’s on the leg. It spins nicely. Very nice. And there you go. That’s it! New jewelry! His permanent bling!”

Two months after arriving at the Carolina Raptor Center one of the barred owls was ready to return to the wild, preserving one more life in North Carolina’s forests.

“It’s super important. I mean, I do this because it brings me a lot of joy to take birds that have been injured almost exclusively by human cause and to be able to get them ready to go back into the wild and to do what they do best.”

“Raptors are top predators, they’re great indication of, you know, environments doing well.

And all of those things just, like really come together when it comes to working in rehab is that you can kind of pull all of those things together, in like working with animals doing conservation, and like seeing a difference with the things that you do.”