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Saving the raptors

Photo: Brahm Whittinghill
Photo: Brahm Whittinghill
Photo: Brahm Whittinghill
Photo: Tiffany Stone/Southern Paw Photography
Photo: Brahm Whittinghill
Photo: Brahm Whittinghill

Kentucky group gives injured eagles, owls and other birds a second chance

A bald eagle soaring against a turquoise blue sky, its massive wings spanning 7 feet, and its white head and tail gleaming brilliantly in the sun is a sight that will stir the soul. On the other hand, coming across the remains of a raptor that couldn’t escape entanglement in a barbed wire fence will demoralize the soul.

But it’s not always a loss when our federally protected raptors fall victim to a dangerous world. Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc., based in Louisville, has saved thousands of sick and injured raptors from across the state and released them back into the wild. Bald eagles, golden eagles, five species of owls, five species of hawks, American kestrels, peregrine falcons, kites and vultures make up Kentucky’s raptor species.

Director Eileen Wicker and her husband, John, founded the organization back in 1990. Over the years, they have seen about everything that can happen to birds of prey—from gunshot wounds to diseases like West Nile Virus.


Raptor Rehab’s facility in the Buechel community of Louisville handles as many as 150 birds at a time—birds that have been hit by cars, shotgun pellets or tangled in fences. Eileen notes that some are just too sick or injured to be helped.

“You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it still makes me cry to see one put down,” she says. The good news is, with the help of 30 volunteers and two veterinary partnerships, Raptor Rehab sees more than a 60 percent successful rehabilitation rate.

Drugs, medical supplies and feed for the birds are expensive—and birds of prey eat a tremendous amount of mice. The organization contracts with commercial mouse breeders for its supply. That bill alone is $5,000 per month.

Some of the raptors survive their injuries, but can’t be rehabilitated enough to return to the wild. The non-profit corporation takes these birds on the road, raising needed funds by offering raptor educational programs to schools, churches, scouting troops, etc.—and each year Raptor Rehab takes eagles, hawks and birds with names like Brewster, the barred owl, to the state fair to raise public awareness. Also, anyone can see the birds and the work that goes on at the facility by calling (502) 491-1939 for an appointment.

As outdoors people, what do we do if we stumble upon an injured bird of prey? According to Eileen, we should cover the bird’s head with anything available, such as an article of clothing or a sack, to calm the bird. Avoid holding the bird by its talons. Find a box or pet carrier to house the bird until someone from Raptor Rehab can come get it or instruct you on what to do next—and hope the great bird of prey will get a second chance to soar across the heavens once more.

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