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July 23, 2014
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Where birds of prey stay

This male American kestrel is highly imprinted, or bonded, onto humans. Imprinting must occur within the first four to ten weeks of an animal’s life in order to take hold and, once it occurs, it is irreversible.

By Sybil Sanchez

Bill Streeter and his small team are on a mission of passion—to rehabilitate and educate about raptors in the Delaware River Valley region. When asked why he does it, Bill simply says, “Raptors have an energy, a presence, there’s just something about them that taps into my soul.” In other words, “I am just bonkers about raptors.”

Watching Julia, a golden eagle that is blind in one eye, spread her seven-foot wingspan and fly, one can see the cause of Bill’s attraction in all its majesty and ferocity. Similar to the word rapture, and indeed Julia inspires a sense of rapture, the word raptor comes from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. Although most birds eat other animals like mice, raptors, or birds of prey, have three distinctive qualities: the best eyesight in the animal kingdom; long, curved talons that serve as weapons and hold food; and strong hooked beaks for tearing flesh that do the same. Some of the most commonly seen raptors in the Delaware Valley region are hawks, eagles, falcons, owls and vultures.

Julia is what Bill calls a “program bird,” a bird that resides permanently at the Delaware Valley Raptor Center (DVRC) and participates in the 150 to 170 live programs that the center conducts annually to educate the public about these noble birds. Some birds come to be rehabilitated and then returned to the wild; others, like Julia, live at the center permanently. Eyesight problems are a common reason for residency due to head injuries caused by car accidents. Raptors stop for carrion on the road and don’t adequately evade oncoming traffic. Bill advises that it’s important for drivers to know that raptors don’t fear cars and therefore don’t fly off quickly like some other birds. Other risks to raptors include lead poisoning from ingesting gun shot in other animals, pesticides that are often ingested the same way, and flight collision injuries from windows, utility lines, and wind turbines.