As rare as it is to catch sight of a red-tailed hawk up close, members of the Davis community will get to do just that this on Saturday when the California Raptor Center (CRC) holds its annual open house.
A fixture at UC Davis since 1973, the CRC originally started as an offshoot of the avian sciences department before switching over to the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980.
The CRC, which is largely volunteer-run, operates primarily as a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned birds of prey from around Northern California, said Lis Fleming, an education program volunteer for the CRC.
“We often do the follow-up care after the raptors have been treated at the vet school,” she said. “We provide medication, help with physical therapy and generally prepare the raptors to be released back into the wild.”
Saturday’s open house will offer members of the public a chance to see many of the raptors up close. Attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in a “hawk walk” along Putah Creek led by a CRC staff member.
Though many of the birds that come to the CRC eventually regain enough strength to re-enter their native habitats, some raptors are too injured. These birds remain permanently at the center as part of its education program, which gives presentations to schools throughout the area, Fleming said.
Raptors are distinguished from other birds in their unique predatory style, which includes capturing their prey with their feet.
“Most birds, even robins and swallows, catch prey,” Fleming said. “What makes raptors different is that they ‘seize and squeeze’ their prey with their talons. They also have curved, sharp beaks which are used for ripping and tearing their food.”
Though most of the raptors are local and not technically endangered, many of them do face threats to their survival, said junior wildlife biology major Max Lambert, who has worked at the CRC for the past two years.
“Working here, you definitely see the human impact on these animals,” he said. “Whether it is crop chemicals that harm the falcons’ eggs or a hawk being hit by a train, humans have an effect on their survival.”
Fleming said birds of prey are particularly vulnerable to collisions with automobiles.
“Raptors are not very savvy about escaping cars – they don’t really understand them,” she said. “While the roads provide lots of rodents for the birds to hunt, they also present the danger of being hit.”
Lambert said the well-being of the raptors is important to the ecosystem as a whole
“The birds are the top predators in their food chain, and therefore are a vital indication of the health of the entire environment,” he said. “They really help control and balance the ecosystem.”
Junior biochemical engineering major Bryce Sullivan attended last year’s open house and said he plans to check it out this year as well.
“I thought it was pretty cool to see the raptors so close-up or on the glove,” he said. “That is something that you don’t get to witness very often.”
Saturday’s event will kick off with the “Hawk Walk” at 8 a.m. Tours of the center will begin at 9 a.m. and will run through 2 p.m. with special presentations at 10 a.m. and noon.
ERICA LEE can be reached at email@example.com.