Raptor center seeks input

Help sought to shape plans for permanent home

Posted: Monday, March 14, 2005

The Juneau Raptor Center may form a steering committee from the community to help shape plans for its permanent home, board members said.

At an open house Saturday at the DIPAC Macaulay Hatchery, raptor center members showed conceptual drawings, released this month, for the proposed Alaska Coastal Wildlife Center.

The wildlife center would house the raptor center's education and rehabilitation programs in separate buildings overlooking a meadow near Brotherhood Bridge.

The city has donated the land, which was purchased by a land trust from a private owner, using federal conservation funds.

The conceptual drawings by Juneau architect J. Travis Miller show a center that could be built in phases. The cost of the whole project is estimated at $7 million, said raptor center board member John Eiler. But it's not clear what will end up being built.

The next step is to decide "what do we really want to do and what is the price tag," Eiler said. A steering committee may be formed, he said.

The all-volunteer raptor center cares for more than 200 injured birds a year, including many that aren't birds of prey. Volunteers take care of the birds at their homes. The center retains a few birds that can't fend for themselves to be used in educational programs.

"It's tough to develop a broader-based membership" without a facility, Eiler said. And the group could provide better education programs if it could bring students to a center, where they could compare birds, rather than see one bird at school, he said.

The drawing for the educational building shows a skylit lobby, tall rooms to house birds, a songbird aviary, museum, children's discovery room, and outdoor viewing platform.

The rehabilitation building includes holding areas for birds, an exam room, a flyway, and meeting rooms.

Taking care of injured birds is a labor of love, Eiler said.

Raptor volunteer Scot Tiernan walked around at Saturday's open house with a red-tailed hawk on his gloved arm. The bird, named Brutus, is blind in one eye and can't hunt in the wild.

Tiernan told two little girls that Brutus had been found on Douglas Island two years ago, probably after the bird had been struck by a vehicle. The hawk had a detached retina in one eye and a broken leg.

Actually, Brutus is female, but volunteers at first thought the bird was male because it was so aggressive.

Tiernan took care of Brutus in her first year in captivity. Now others care for her. But Tiernan misses her.

"We'd watch 'Monday Night Football' together. I'd put my hand on my knee," giving Brutus a place to perch, he said.

Irene Morris has cared for AJ, a marsh hawk, for 10 years. The bird had landed on an electrical wire and burned its talons.

"Oh, he's great. We love him. We were lucky to get AJ," she said.

AJ hunts by hearing where the prey is. That gives him a nervous look.

"He never stops moving," Morris said.

The raptor center branched out this month to gathering information on healthy wild birds. Along with federal and state biologists, volunteers in 10 communities in Southeast Alaska are watching and listening for owls.

"We're trying to get an idea of the distribution and abundance of forest owls," Morris said. "The owls are kind of a secretive bird. You don't really see them. A lot of our 'sightings' are hearing them."

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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