Guest Author - Kimberly Weiss
The Raptor Trust is a bird-of-prey hospital located in Millington, NJ, near the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. If you are in the area, I highly recommend dropping by. You wonít be disappointed.
Nobody takes admission or sells you a ticket. There is a small box for voluntary donations, and I strongly recommend that you drop in a few dollars. The trust does good work, and your small donation will buy food and medicine for many injured birds. ($2.00 is the suggested donation.)
While healthier animals are released after their injuries heal, the trust maintains a permanent exhibit of animals that are too injured to return to the wild. Donít worry, though. Most of the animals look fine. A couple of birds seem to limp, but there are no obvious disfigurements that might frighten a young child. In fact, the only element of sadness at the Raptor Trust is on the signs on some of the enclosures. Many of them are dedicated to people who have passed away, some of them quite young. The enclosure of the bald eagle is dedicated to someone who died on September 11. There is also a flag near this enclosure, making a very poignant, patriotic little area within the zoo.
Most of the birds are brought in from the nearby suburbs of New Jersey, so you wonít see any exotic species. If youíve never gotten a close look at species like red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and great-horned owls, here is your chance.
What I find most interesting about the raptor trust, though, is that not all of the visitors are human! I have had some very good luck birding at the Raptor Trust. For some reason, a lot of healthy birds seem to flock around these outdoor cages. The last time I went there in November, I saw a large flock of black vultures sitting in the trees surrounding the cages, and a very calm great horned owl, also sitting in a tree, oblivious to everyone taking its picture. Were they visiting their bird friends in the hospital? They werenít interacting much with either the staff or the avian residents, but maybe they donít need to, maybe their presence is enough. Altruism in birds isnít well understood, but I like to imagine that these birds of prey somehow brought comfort to their friends in the hospital. Maybe they were former patients, released in the wild, but remembering the care they got here when they were hurt. Or maybe they just smelled the dead mice in the cages, or maybe they just liked those tall trees. Who knows. But it since birders get more excited about birds in the wild than in captivity, it was a nice surprise.
Last but not least, visit the gift shop. Itís small, and the t-shirts donít come in a lot of colors (mostly tan), but all of the products are of high quality. I bought one of the tan t-shirts a few years ago, and it remains one of my favorite shirts.
The web site for the raptor trust is theraptortrust.org. Even if you donít live near New Jersey, check it out. The stories are all interesting. And be sure to find a bird-of-prey hospital near you. They are great places to visit and bird.