By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
The West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center (WVRRC) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its newly completed facilities on Bunner Ridge Road last Sunday.
The 285-acre property now includes an education center, an ICU for birds needing intensive care and a building with flight cages to help the healthier birds increase their wing strength.
Founder and executive director Michael Book said the new center was a project 30 years in the making.
“We’ve had plans for a long time, but it’s taken us a while to raise the money,” Book said. The facility includes big flight cages, called mews, that range from 17 to 30 feet long. These mews allow the birds to exercise and fly while they recover.
The WVRRC used to be housed out of an old horse barn on the Goshen Road in a property owned by Elizabeth Zimmermann.
“It was rustic, and we didn’t have any running water,” Book said. “This is a big step up, and it makes it nicer for the volunteers.”
With no running water, the previous facility lacked bathrooms.
Book estimates that if the current facility were made entirely by a construction crew, it would cost at least $300,000. However, by primarily relying on volunteers for labor, the WVRRC was able to construct the facility for only $90,000.
“We didn’t do any specific fundraising,” Book said. “We’ve just been saving money for 30 years.”
“We’re terrible fundraisers. We’re terrible PR people. But we’re great at education and the things that we do,” he said.
The grand opening last week was a great success, Book said.
“Three words: It was grand,” Book said. Book estimates there were 500 people in attendance.
While the grand opening is the only open house they have planned, Book said that people who want to see the facility can do so — they just need to make sure to call the facility first to see when volunteers will be on-site.
“If the gates are open, there’s somebody here,” Book said.
The facility includes a building that houses both the ICU unit, for treating birds with injuries or illnesses requiring closer care, and an education room.
The deck that runs around the outside of the building faces the bird cages and gives visitors a good vantage point to see the birds. The bird-housing building is divided into a section with birds being rehabilitated, which faces away from visitors, and birds who primarily serve to educate the public, whose mews face the deck.
Before the facility was constructed, volunteers had to travel to give educational presentations. Now, they can do presentations at home and away.
The WVRRC volunteers typically travel 15,000 miles a year or more for education programs, Book said. They go all over the state and even farther away to places such as New Orleans.
While the rehabilitation work they do for injured or sick birds is important, education is even more important, Book said.
“The most urgent thing that we do is rehabilitating the birds. The most important thing that we do is education,” Book said. “The education is what saves more of these birds than we do.”
Book said that when he first got started rehabilitating raptors, around 80 percent of injured birds had been shot. Now, some years none of the birds they take in have been shot.
“Now the biggest problem is birds being hit by cars,” Book said.
From his parents to those two generations after him, Book estimates four generations of people have learned about raptors from the WVRRC.
“Our main thing is that man is a part of nature, not apart from nature,” Book said. “We hope that when they leave they understand that we’re all part of the same planet. We share the same habitat and have the same basic needs.”
Books said that one of the big problems they face is that raptors are under-researched, and therefore often misunderstood.
Last year, the WVRRC put on 75 educational programs. This year, they’ve already done close to 80.
Work at the WVRRC is all done by volunteers. The center has around 25 volunteers, including “transporters,” people who help transport injured birds from outside the nearby area.
Liz Snyder, operations director, said that rehabilitating a bird is what motivates her to volunteer at WVRRC.
“I think that’s the most enjoyable thing,” Snyder said. “Seeing a bird that can hardly stand up, and then feeding it and caring for it, and watching it regain its strength, and finally getting it to the point where it can go back where it came from. That’s what motivates me, personally.”
The volunteers come to the center to work with the birds year-round, even on holidays.
Sheila Armfield, education director at WVRRC, said that they like to give the birds something fun for the holidays.
“We usually feed them something a little extra special,” Armfield said. “Last Thanksgiving, they got deer.”
Book’s passion for falcons is something he’s always had. He got interested in rehabilitation work during his time working as a biologist for the Division of Natural Resources.
“People would bring in injured birds, and the veterinarians didn’t know how to deal with them because you don’t learn about raptors at veterinarian school. And nobody wanted to mess with them,” Book said. While raptors are potentially dangerous if you don’t know how to handle them, Book said that they are not as dangerous as some people think.
This year, including birds that have been rehabilitated and released into the wild, the WVRRC has housed 72 birds.
One of the birds they’ve worked worked with this year is Blondie, a red-tailed hawk. She had West Nile virus, a disease that Book estimates kills infected birds “99 percent of the time.”
Blondie was lucky.
“We fed her several times a day in little bits, and she kept getting bigger,” Book said. “In 32 days, she gained 32 ounces.”
Now, Blondie is fully recovered.
If someone finds an injured bird, Book said that they should call the WVRRC at 304-366-2867.
Volunteers are always welcome, and those interested can contact the WVRRC via phone, or go to their website at http://www.wvrrc.org and fill out a volunteer application. Donations are also appreciated, Book said, and important items include cleaning supplies, paper towels, Clorox wipes, surgical gloves and hand sanitizer.
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.