Friday, November 6, 2015

The Alaska Raptor Center - Sitka, AK

After our sea otter and wildlife quest boat trip, a bus and driver was waiting at the dock to transport us to our next adventure in Sitka, a visit to the Alaska Raptor Center.

Sitka Tours Bus
Let's be honest here, this bus was not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination,  It think it was a old school bus with uncomfortable seats and smelled kind of funky inside.  On the plus side, the driver was entertaining and knowledgeable about Sitka and the ride to the Alaska Raptor Center was thankfully short.

Alaska Raptor Center, Sitka Alaska

According to their website, The Alaska Raptor Center's Mission is "To provide medical treatment for injured bald eagles and other birds, to teach people about Alaska’s birds and environmental conservation and to conduct bald eagle research."

Started in the backyards of two residents of Sitka in 1980,  the center has grown and now provides medical care and rehabilitation for 100-200 birds each year.  Many of the birds are found in Alaska, but some have been transported from other parts of the US. The goal is to release them back into the wild, but unfortunately sometimes their injuries leave permanent damage that would prevent them from having a reasonable chance of survival. The center has over 20 resident birds that could not be released.  These birds are used to educate visitors to the center and children in schools around the country. Other birds that can't be released are placed in zoos, with other educational organizations or in captive breeding facilities around the country. The offspring of captive-bred eagles are raised and released to help restore wild populations.

The center moved to their current 17 acre facility in 1991 and it is open daily for tours from May through September (hmmm, that coincides with the cruise ship season).

At the beginning of the tour we were directed past some information and displays about bald eagles on our way to the Bald Eagle Flight Training Center.

Bald Eagle Flight Training Enclosure - Alaska Raptor Center
The Flight Training Center is a large aviary where dozens of eagles gain strength in a simulated wild setting.  They have room to fly, snags and logs to perch on, a man-made pond and stream and fresh salmon to eat.  The quality of he above photo is poor because I took it through the one-way glass that allows observation without disturbing the birds.  The center staff watch the progress of each bird to gauge whether it is well enough to be released and survive.

The Bald Eagle Flight Training Center

This is another view of the Flight Training Center which shows the creek and pond.

Bald Eagle at the Flight Training Compound at the Alaska Raptor Center

After observing the eagles in the Flight Training Center, we were led to a large meeting room where we were shown a film about the Alaska Raptor Center and a staff member brought in one of the resident eagles for us to meet.

I didn't get a good photo of the bald eagle we were introduced to because we were asked not to use the flash on our cameras while the bird was in the room.  After the end of the presentation, I went outside to see the outdoor aviaries where there were more birds, including golden eagles, ravens, falcons, hawks and owls.

A Hawk at the Alaska Raptor Center - Sitka, AK
This Swainson's Hawk was one of several resident hawks we saw.

Informational Sign at the Alaska Raptor Center

The outdoor enclosures included educational signs with information about each species.

Great Horned Owl at the Alaska Raptor Center
What I found most surprising was seeing so many owl species, including great horned owl, snowy owl, great grey owl, western screech owl, barred owl, saw-whet owl and northern pygmy owl.
Snowy Owl at the Alaska Raptor Center
This snowy owl, named Qigig, was found in Illinois in 2012 and after receiving care at the University of Illinois for a broken wing, was transferred to the Alaska Raptor Center.   It was hoped that continued rehab using the large flight aviary at the center would help him regain his ability to fly. Unfortunately his injuries were too severe for him to be released so he is now a resident.

Northern Pygmy Owl at the Alaska Raptor Center
Behind the counter in the gift shop were two adorable tiny owls, this one, named Petey is a Northern Pygmy Owl.  I couldn't get a photo, but this owl has eyes in the back of his head!  Ok, not real eyes, but the pattern of his feathers makes it look like he has eyes.  Petey is also a resident of the center because of limited flying ability due to a broken wing that did not heal properly.

Saw-whet Owl at the Alaska Raptor Center

The other tiny resident owl, is Tootsie the Saw-whet Owl.  She is another resident bird with limited flight ability from a wing injury.

Forest Trail at the Alaska Raptor Center
If we hadn't been on a tour and had more time for a more leisurely visit, I would have explored this lovely meandering trail through the forest.

Close-up of a Bald Eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center - Sitka, AK
Too soon our tour ended, but on our way out, we got one last close-up look at one of the resident eagles.  Then it was time to board the bus and travel to our final stop on this 3-part tour, The Fortress of the Bear.

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