More than 100 volunteers and the small staff at the Ojai Raptor Center help more than 1,400 injured and orphaned birds and other wildlife annually. Most people are only granted the opportunity to see the extensive facilities during open houses twice a year, since their mission requires the creation of a setting that’s as natural as possible. One chance to learn about the organization’s fascinating and heartwarming work is on April 7, between noon and 4 p.m. at 370 Baldwin Road.
Visitors will be greeted by ambassador birds that can never be released back into the wild because of health issues, or because excessive contact with humans when they were young prevented development of behavioral skills critical for survival in the wild.
Two new ambassador birds will be on display, a rare albino turkey vulture, and a Northern pygmy owl, one of North America’s smallest owls. Organizers will lead tours, including their new 260-foot-long aviary, and stage presentations to share stories about birds and animals they’re helping. They’ll also teach about ways to minimize impacts on the environment that wildlife require for survival.
Executive Director Kim Stroud balances the hard work of running the center with her job at Patagonia, where efforts to preserve nature are encouraged. Volunteers perform a variety of tasks, including construction and data entry in addition to feeding. Many decided to help after visiting during an open house.
Stroud said that when they set a rehabilitated bird free, the emotions are hard to describe. “You work months to get the animal to the point where you can release it, and it’s gone in a second. They never look back, they never say thank you, but that feeling when that bird flies away is phenomenal. I’ve had people go out on releases with me, and they’re in tears because of that. It’s pretty special,” said Stroud.
They hope to teach people that some birds appearing to be in peril may not actually need to be rescued, and it can be a hard call. “They should observe a little bit first before they rush in and pick up an animal,” said Stroud.
“Most of the ones we get in that we shouldn’t are the baby birds that are fledging out of a nest,” Stroud said. “It’s normal for baby birds to jump out of a nest and be on the ground, and for parents to feed them. But unfortunately we live in a very populated area and there are cats, dogs, kids, cars. So there is a danger to those animals, unless you can create a habitat surrounding the area where they’re fledging and learning to fly.”
Stroud also wants people to understand why it’s illegal to keep wild animals as pets. They can become unnaturally dependent on humans. “Imprinting is when somebody finds an animal and hand-feeds it,” Stroud said. “If you imprint an animal, it can never be released. It doesn’t recognize its own kind. It will never take a mate, and they don’t know how to survive in the wild.”
The organization’s permits allow rescue of other animals, including baby bears and foxes. Stroud saaid consequences of developing formerly wild areas include impacts on the environment that humans also depend on for survival. “They’re the indicator species of what’s happening on this planet,” Stroud said. “And as we see declining species, the next step is the declining human population. They’re on the leading edge, and as we see the diseases coming in, we see decline of species due to pesticides, or disease, or water loss.”