Inside the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.) bird care building, Rob Hope leaned over a bald eagle lying on a table.
The eagle had been submitted to the society for care after she was found with injuries including bleeding ears and minor lead poisoning. Raptor care supervisor Martina Versteeg dropped some solution into the eagle’s eyes as part of the exam and preliminary care. Hope looked on, then left to prepare her cage.
It’s all in a day’s work for the raptor care manager.
O.W.L. sees more than 650 raptors — a type of bird of prey that includes owls, eagles, hawks and vultures — come through the rehabilitation centre each year.
Some, like the red tailed hawk that came in after the bald eagle had been examined, come from as far away Chetwynd, a municipality in the foothills of the Rockies.
“Fort St. John, Fort St. James, … Smithers, Haida Gwaii,” Hope said. “You name it, we get it. As long as it’s in British Columbia.”
Sonsie has been at the centre for 15 years. He was brought in as an eaglet, and can’t be returned to the wild. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy
The society has been around for 35 years, and Hope has been working or volunteering there for more than half that time.
Hope started volunteering with O.W.L. when he was 18, but before then didn’t have any interest in birds.
Now, of course, that’s changed.
“I don’t do it for the money,” he said. “I don’t do it for the glory. I do it for the passion.”
Hope is fervent about helping the birds and being able to release raptors that would have died in the wild. But he’s also driven by being able to inspire and teach people — and that’s one thing the society will be focusing on May 6 and 7, during its annual open house.
The bald eagle, now resting on blankets inside her shrouded cage, won’t be visiting the public during the society’s open house. But some of the more than 40 full-time residents will be on full display.
One of those is Sarah (pictured), a barn owl who came to the rehabilitation centre nine years ago. She was born and raised as a captive bird, meaning she’s not able to be released to the wild.
She’ll be greeting guests as they explore the bird care building, where they can take a look inside the medical room where the eagle was examined and head down to the interim care area.
Another part of the centre that will be available to the public is the front garden area, where a number of different permanent residents are on display.
There are two peregrine falcons, Miraze and Cole, one of whom when the Reporter visited was lying down on a perch as the sun filtered through a skylight. Close by was Stella, the red tailed hawk, sharing her cage with a rough legged hawk. At the end of the walkway, a bald eagle and a golden eagle sat close together.
High pitched squawks filtered through the cages as the birds gabbed with each other.
“Spring is in the air,” Hope said. “They’re all very chatty at this time of year.”
The front garden area is open for tours throughout the summer and on weekends in the fall, but at the open house, more of the facility will be available to the public.
The education birds at the side of the facility, for example, normally enjoy a reclusive lifestyle until they go out to visit schools for presentations. However, this weekend they’ll be perched in their cages for all to see.
For the most part, these birds are well-behaved. One, a male golden eagle named Pygar, isn’t always.
He recently tried to break out of his cage to complete some amorous advances towards a young female golden eagle whose cage was directly across the grassy strip from his.
“He started talking to her, and she was here for a couple months, so he was basically going through the whole breeding [process],” Hope said.
Some of these education birds will also be available for a meet and greet during the open house.
Sally, a saker falcon, is an education bird at the rehabilitation centre, meaning she goes out to schools for presentations. Photo credit: Grace Kennedy
In addition to viewing the birds, visitors will also get a chance to walk around inside a number of different cages, all of which are built to different specifications for the different species. There will also be a talk by eagle biologist David Hancock at 11 a.m. each day.
At 1 p.m. each day, one of the rehabilitated raptors will be released back into the wild.
The O.W.L. open house takes place once a year, and is one of the society’s main fundraisers. Admission to the event is by donation, as are the tours that take place in the summer and fall.
This year’s open house is on May 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. O.W.L. is located near the Boundary Bay Airport, at 3800 72 St. For more information, visit owlrehab.org.