Annually, our birds of prey educate close to 10,000 people. Most of these programs happen onsite at Eagle Bluff, but we also do outreach programs for schools, businesses, and community events. It’s always an exciting memory for people who see these birds, because it’s not very often that you get the chance to view birds of prey up close.
On staff, we have a Raptor Program Coordinator, who is in charge of organizing health care, food orders, and scheduling for programs and staffing. In addition, there are four other full-time staff members trained in giving raptor programs. In addition, each year two naturalists are selected to give programs to the visiting school groups onsite. And finally, the naturalists can also choose to assist with food preparation and feeding during their fellowship. In total, we have about 15 Eagle Bluff staff members trained in on various tasks when it comes to the care and management of our four birds.
One of the most fascinating parts of the program has to do with enrichment. Enrichment is used to keep a bird’s mind sharp and focused, and with some birds, to prevent them from getting bored and destructive. Because our birds spend most of their time in their mews, we want to make sure they are getting stimulation outside of just being handled by people. Therefore, we vary the types of enrichment that we use throughout the year, depending on the season and a bird’s interest. These different enrichment events or items also change depending on the bird, but it’s always fun to see how our birds react to new things introduced to their environment.
Included in the pictures below are examples of the different types of enrichment we do with our four birds. We love to hear from our readers, so if you have any questions about what you see and read, just leave a comment at the end of the post!
One of the most common things we do for enrichment with our birds is training. All of our birds have different training plans, and are usually training for a different behavior depending on how they’ve been responding to us, how they do in the programs, and also just to make sure their basic skills stay sharp. We use operant conditioning with positive reinforcement with our birds. More often than not, the positive reinforcement is food. In the picture, you can see on of our past handlers Vaughn working with our Red-tailed Hawk. She has the tendency to get REALLY excited about food, so we work with her to be calm on the glove before she gets it. You can see the hawk is focusing on his hand, where he’s hiding the food from her view. Her wings are open and extended, so he didn’t reward her until she tucked them back in again. Some other training focus areas we implement with our birds is practicing stepping up onto the glove, crate training, cue training for moving from one perch to another, and also flight training with some of our more experienced birds.
Another very common form of enrichment that we utilize is putting the birds’ food into different items. Across the board, our birds react differently to these items, and a lot of it has to do with their natural history. Our Turkey Vulture excels at pulling out food hidden in dog toys because he can smell it. It’s also common for vultures to stick their beaks into things since they’re often doing so in carcasses in the wild. On the other hand, if we use items for our hawk, kestrel, or barred owl, the food has to be clearly visible at first. Otherwise, they’re completely oblivious to the fact of the food’s existence. With training, our hawk could learn to pull food out of items, but we haven’t had a need to include that in our training plans.
Sometimes, we’ll also add new things to the bird’s environment to stimulate their thinking and movement. The pictures show some great examples!
Here are a few final pictures of other enrichment examples.
It’s always a privilege to work with these birds of prey! It’s a challenge every day- trying to build trust between you and a wild animal is no easy task! However, we find it completely worth it! If you know any middle school students interested in wildlife, a great option for them to learn more is to send them to Wildlife Summer Camp at Eagle Bluff. Or, if you’d like to support out raptors, check out our Adopt-a-Raptor Page to learn how!