OWENSBORO — Since the West Kentucky Raptor Center was formed in 2007, the organization has received and treated almost 100 wounded hawks, owls and vultures.
As one of only two certified raptor rehabilitation centers in Kentucky, the all-volunteer organization receives calls about wounded birds from across the state.
The Raptor Center is entering its third year in operation at Yellow Creek Park. The Daviess County Parks Department rents the building the organization uses to nurse injured predator birds back to health.
The hope is, as the agency continues to grow, that the facility can be expanded to rehabilitate even larger birds of prey.
"Our next big project is to build a flight cage complex capable for rehabilitation for bald eagles," Eric Miller, the center's executive director, said. "A bald eagle needs 100 feet of flight space, and right now we have 30 feet.
"We know eagles are coming back. It's only a matter of time before we get an injured eagle," Miller said.
Birds of prey, such as owls and kestrels, can be injured in a variety of ways, but one of the most common seen by Raptor Center volunteers is collisions with automobiles. Young birds can sometimes be attacked by larger raptors. The group also has treated birds that were shot or attacked by humans.
"We've had about six gunshots," group member Reggie Helm said.
The group has a 65 percent success rate in rehabilitating birds and returning them to the wild. When a bird is injured, speed is of the essence, because a raptor that is unable to hunt will deteriorate quickly.
"If you're a predator and you start missing a meal, you start going down," Miller said.
Much of the center's assistance comes from local veterinarians, and some vets volunteer medical services when the group has a bird in need of special care. Boy Scouts earning their Eagle Scout badges build the large recovery pens, and many of the supplies are donated.
But there are expenses, particularly for mice, a raptor delicacy.
"When we started (the budget) was about $1,500 a year," Helm said. "We're about double that right now."
Miller said it is fulfilling to help injured raptors because a successful rehabilitation ends with the bird flying back into the wild.
"The one thing I like about our mission (is) we don't talk about making a difference, we're making a difference," he said. "You can actually see it."