A Hospital for the Birds

Tucked away in the woods of north Mecklenburg County, Carolina Raptor Center is a medical facility for birds. The facility admits between 800-1,000 birds of prey every year. Any research that you do on the over 60 facilities in North America that treat raptors tells you that Carolina Raptor Center may be the largest raptor treatment facility in the US and possibly the world.

Avian Veterinarian Dave Scott, DVM, shies away from superlatives like “biggest” or “busiest” but he loves his job as the staff veterinarian and avian surgeon at the Huntersville location inside Latta Nature Preserve. The staff – made up of three full-time and two part time members –works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year to keep the facility growing and accepting new patients. This work is supported by 40 active volunteers who assist in surgery, perform physical therapy, feed birds, administer medicine and do whatever is necessary to get their avian patients back out into the wild.

Their efforts to fix and release birds are as successful as any other wildlife center in the country. The hospital’s patients are released back into the wild almost 70 percent of the time if they live through the first 24 hours, the most critical time.

Injuries range from broken bones to lead poisoning and are primarily caused by interaction with humans. “We feel a responsibility to take care of these birds, especially because most of the reasons that they are in this condition are directly caused by humans,” says staff veterinarian Dave Scott. “We are thrilled that so many of them – almost 70% -- are successful and return to the wild with a good chance for survival.”

The primary cause of injury for birds brought into the medical center is “hit by car.” This occurs when litter attracts rodents and other small mammals to the side of the road. The raptor – following its instinct—focuses completely on this available prey and often never sees the car. So one of the major prevention messages for CRC staff is to ask visitors and friends not to throw litter of any kind – even biodegradable litter – out of their car windows. This would go a long way to prevent many of the injuries to birds rehabilitated at Carolina Raptor Center. One other cause worth mentioning is “gunshot wounds.” Even though shooting migratory birds is illegal, CRC still saw 30 gunshot wounds in 2015.