DECATUR, Ill. — Volunteer life at the Illinois Raptor Center is red in beak and talon.

Here’s the description from the literature handed out to new recruits at the facility, which specializes in rehabilitating birds of prey and runs education programs using critters that can’t go home again.

“You must understand…that you will possibly see disturbing things like blood, dead and/or dying animals, feces, internal organs, broken bones, gunshot wounds, electrocutions, head trauma, live prey being killed, parasites, euthanasia and diseases. In addition to that, you may experience unpleasant smells associated with the care of wild animals.”

It’s pretty clear that this is not going to be like helping out at your Sunday school class. And yet, seven hardy souls came along the afternoon of Sept. 25 to the Raptor Center’s campus-like facility on Decatur’s western edge for a two-hour introduction to what they will face as new volunteers.

The blood and gore started right from the introductory PowerPoint presentation by program director Jacques Nuzzo. As he introduced the Raptor Center and its work, two little kestrels, Percival and Liz, were sitting on stands ripping apart their nice, mice lunches.

Then, after a quick flight through five pages of “personal requirements” that tell volunteers how to conduct themselves, it was on to meet a new patient in the shape of a half-starved red-tailed hawk.

He’d been found so weak he couldn’t fly and, while Raptor Center executive director Jane Seitz held him, Nuzzo got busy giving the down-on-its-luck predator a thorough examination, including rectal temperature and taking blood samples, while the raw volunteers looked on.

Fat parasitic bugs, the size of houseflies, regularly flew out during this process and were caught and stuffed in a bottle. Nuzzo also passed around dead examples of other parasitic nasties the volunteers may well encounter in their work.

“Those parasites … it’s been a little difficult seeing some of this stuff,” said new volunteer Susan Woolen, 66, who lives in Decatur. But then she smiled at the memory of the hawk, an ailing ruler of the sky, laid out in front of her within touching distance.

“Oh my goodness, yes, these are magnificent birds, and I am definitely still feeling gung-ho. I’d like to help, whatever I can do.”

As for the malnourished hawk, he will be treated, fattened up and released back into the indifference of nature. Seitz says he either learns to hunt on his own, or he doesn’t.

“You can’t cure stupid,” she added.

Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review,

Information from: Herald & Review,

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (Decatur) Herald & Review.

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