Our History

History Cover

Deb Sue working in a rustic rehabilitation trailer, circa 1986. Mathias Engelmann with Dr. Dick Brown about to release a Bald Eagle in 1987. File Photos.

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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children. – John James Audubon

From a Humble Beginning to a Worldwide Passion

When the first raptor – a Broad-winged Hawk -- was brought to UNC-Charlotte ornithologist Dr. Richard Brown in 1975, Carolina Raptor Center was born (or “hatched”). In 1979, enter student Deb Sue Griffin, who received her first bird. Six birds were admitted that year into a makeshift clinic in the basement of UNCC’s biology building.

The plan for a raptor center begins on a paper napkin at a conference in 1980! The rehabilitation center is still located in a portion of the basement of the UNCC biology building. Twenty three birds are admitted, almost quadrupling the previous year’s intake.

In 1981, CRC is co-founded by Dr. Brown and Deb Sue Griffin and incorporated as a non-profit 501(c) 3 corporation. The original name was “Carolina Raptor Rehabilitation and Research Center,” quite a mouthful. CRRRC admits its first Bald Eagle this year while 88 birds are admitted.

Historical Details

  • First bird admitted in 1975
  • Incorporated in 1981
  • Moves to Latta Plantation in 1984
  • Edna Moretti Environmental Education Building dedicated in 1992
  • Betty J. & J. Stanley Livingston Eagle Aviary dedicated in 1996
  • Jim Arthur Rehabilitation Facility dedicated in 1997
  • First Staff Vet hired in 2008
  • Raptors of the Silver Screen Exhibit opens in 2010
  • Celebrates 30 years in Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in 2014

Two new species, a Saw-whet Owl and an Osprey are received at the center in 1982. A record 202 birds are admitted in 1983. The first Peregrine Falcon is also admitted this year.

In early 1984, rumor has it that a crusty administrator caught a vulture riding the elevator. The decision is made -- no more college tricks. The Raptor Center has to move. The suggestion is made that perhaps the birds needed to find a new home. The first capital campaign is launched in 1984. Founder Dr. Dick Brown outlines a $2 million goal to be raised through memberships, donations and bequests - $1 million dollars for construction and opening of the new facility, and $1 million for endowment.

Just a few months later, in April 1984, Carolina Raptor Center moves to its new home inside Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. Conditions are rough in the beginning -- no electricity, no water. But the early rehabilitation pioneers are resolved to make it work - getting water from the lake and electricity from battery power. The first display cage is constructed. The first trailer is erected on the current site at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. Early resident birds include Santigi and Sigmund, Red-tailed Hawks, and Campbell, an imprinted vulture. 218 birds are admitted for treatment in 1984 (bird #500 is admitted).

By early 1985, things have settled down some - a second trailer is installed at the current location, and Brown's vision of a 22,000 square foot building including a visitor center and treatment areas is coming into focus. An Article in Carolina Outdoors quoted Brown who said "the ultimate goal of the Carolina Raptor Center is public education to further the growing awareness that all life forms are part of a vast network, with each creature’s well being dependent on that of all the rest."

Over 210 Boy Scouts have completed Eagle Scout projects at Carolina Raptor Center over the last 30 years. The first, Craig McGwier, completes his project in 1985. 1986 saw the admission of Bird #1,000, an Eastern Screech Owl, the notation in the chart said "Trapped in Glue." Carolina Raptor Center receives a grant from Mecklenburg County and hires its first three staffers. A new species, the Short-eared Owl is seen in the rehabilitation program. And running water is installed in the trailers.

The Osprey hacking project ends in 1987: a total of 9 young birds are released at 2 sites over 3 years.

A new weathering area is constructed where it still exists today, but is not used to “weather” birds. In 1988, the first new rehabilitation cages are constructed ( the current “A”-cages) and the first Mississippi Kite is admitted into the rehabilitation center.

Milestone patient #2,000 is admitted in 1989 -- a Red-tailed Hawk. The first captive hatching in the Southeast of a Golden Eagle occurs this year. WTVI’s “Healing Birds of Prey” airs bringing attention and expanded public support of the Raptor Center’s mission. Hurricane Hugo blows through and destroys several cages.

In 1990, rehabilitation gets a boost when the first X-ray machine is installed, giving practioners further insight into the treatments needed to help our patients. The “Condo” enclosure is dedicated on the Raptor Trail, and the first new flight cages are completed. 446 birds are admitted to the rehabilitation center.

The amphitheater is built in 1991 by two scouts for their Eagle Award projects. The first Bald Eagle cataract surgery is performed this year, and patient #3,000 is admitted – an Eastern Screech Owl.

In 1992, a major facility improvement, the Edna S. Moretti Environmental Education Center is completed and dedicated. The first (and only) Goshawk was received with injuries from a gunshot wound. The Goshawk was found in Denver, NC, rehabilitated at CRC, and released in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Raptor Research Foundation Annual Meeting is hosted by CRC in 1993, over 200 Researchers from 7 nations attend this international meeting. Patient #4,000 is received in the rehabilitation program – a Mississippi Kite. Federal crime touches Carolina Raptor Center in 1993 when two Golden Eagles are stolen from CRC property. The first Golden Eagle is admitted to the Rehabilitation center and the first Raptor Rehabilitation Seminar to train veterinarians and rehabbers about raptors is held at the Center.

The Education department makes news in 1994 when the Wild Wings outreach program is initiated. An education staff member is hired specifically to travel all over NC and SC to visit school children and provide formal education programs aligned with curriculum goals.

In 1995, the first (and only) American Swallow-tailed Kite is admitted to the Rehabilitation center also a gunshot wound. The Kite, found in Bandy, NC, is rehabilitated and released in Georgetown County, SC. Patient #5,000 is admitted – a Red-tailed Hawk.  A record 543 birds are admitted, including the 1,000th Red-tailed Hawk.

The largest enclosure on the public trail, 11,200 square feet Betty J. & J. Stanley Livingston Eagle Aviary, is dedicated in 1996.

Patient #6,000 is admitted in 1997 – another Red-tailed Hawk, and the 1,000th Barred Owl is admitted. In 1998, CRC creates the full-time director of Education position and hires an assistant to the Director of Education, building our capacity to provide onsite and Wild Wings education programs. During this year, the 4,000 square feet Jim Arthur Rehabilitation Facility (Now the Jim Arthur Raptor Medical Center) is built and dedicated. A total of 577 birds are admitted to this facility.

Patient #7,000 is admitted in 1998 – an Eastern Screech Owl. A second Wild Wings staff member is added to meet the increasing demand for programs. A part-time rehabilitation assistant and a full-time Director of Volunteer Programs are added to the growing professional staff.

1999 is a busy year. Carolina Raptor Center is accepted in the NC Grassroots Science Museum Collaborative, a statewide museum organization created with a grant from Burroughs Wellcome to foster partnerships and administer state science museum grants. The Board of Directors establishes a Board of Advisors to advise the center. A one-week internship program for North Carolina State University veterinary students is established with the assistance of Ornithologist Lauren Degernes. The 1,000th Eastern Screech Owl and 8,000th patient –a Red-tailed Hawk-- are admitted, as well as the first Long-eared Owl. A Bald Eagle with Mercury poisoning is admitted; this is the first documented case in North Carolina of a live bird treated for this condition. 676 birds are admitted this year, a new record.

In 2001, a monumental 104’ flight training facility addition is completed to create the largest facility in the Southeast –at 200 feet long. This large scale enclosure is used to rehabilitate eagles, Red-tailed Hawks and vultures. The second Golden Eagle in the history of CRC is admitted for rehabilitation. A record number of Bald Eagles (5) are treated in the rehabilitation center. A second part-time rehabilitation assistant is hired to increase capacity. 718 birds are admitted – a new record.

Bird #9,000 is admitted in 2002 – a Barred Owl. A Community Relations officer is added to focus on outreach and public relations for the center. An Arts and Science Council (ASC)-funded survey of the general population analyzes the brand and awareness of Carolina Raptor Center. The surgical suite is outfitted with an anesthesia machine and a surgery table. Staff head count stands at twelve full-time and 5 part-time employees. CRC receives the $25,000 McColl Award from the ASC for $25,000 to fund “A Return to the Carolina Skies” sculpture by artist Lori Norwood and educational programming.

The NC Grassroots Science Museum Collaborative provides the first grants to museums across the state in 2003; CRC receives a little more than $112,000 this year. The 10,000th patient is admitted – an Eastern Screech Owl, and the 4,000th bird is released. The West Nile vaccination program begins, and all 100+ permanent resident birds are vaccinated.

Marketing the center begins in 2004 with an Outdoor Advertising campaign on billboards throughout the county. Carol Sue Bubb makes the single largest donation in the history of Carolina Raptor Center through a bequest in her will -- $275,000. The first case of West Nile Virus is confirmed in a Red-tailed Hawk admitted to the rehabilitation center. 690 patients are admitted in 2004.

A Great Horned Owl becomes bird #11,000 admitted in 2005. A storm damages the eagle aviary and the public participated in a 9 month campaign to find Garabaldi, the Bald Eagle, who escapes and is not found until 2006. CRC holds its first major fundraising event -- “Take Flight.” The first Burrowing Owl is admitted to the rehabilitation center, but is dead on arrival. A Burrowing Owl is added to the permanent collection two years later as a transfer from a Florida rehabilitation center - the bird is returned to the wild after Veterinarian Dave Scott deems it releaseable. A record number of Bald Eagles (8) are admitted in 2005.

Jim Warren, the first Chief Operating Officer is hired in 2006. He later becomes the Executive Director in 2011.This year also sees two Bald Eagle chicks hatched in the eagle aviary – the first in North Carolina hatched in captivity. These birds, Len and Lola, are tagged and released into the wild. 699 birds are admitted this year. In 2007, patient #12,000 is admitted, along with 813 other birds. In 2008, the first staff veterinarian, Dave Scott, is hired through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Digital radiographs are instituted. 699 birds are admitted including the 13,000th patient.

2009 is a good year for efficiency and programming in what we now call the Raptor Medical Center. Dr. Scott develops RaptorVet, a summer veterinary course and externships. All medical charts are put into RaptorMed database, eliminating paper charts. Bird #14,000 is admitted.

The new Corvid exhibit is constructed in 2010, adding a non-raptor species to the Raptor Trail. Family Corvidae celebrates the mythology and intelligence that are hallmarks of this prevalent family of birds.

Raptors of the Silver Screen exhibits are constructed as an homage to movies that premiere in 2010 that prominently feature raptors – The Guardians of Ga’Hoole and the last Harry Potter installment. Dr. Scott publishes “Handbook of Raptor Rehabilitation” (aka “The Bible”), the first comprehensive look at diagnosis and treatment of these avian species. 733 birds are admitted to the Raptor Medical Center.

In 2011, patient #15,000 is admitted – a baby Great Horned Owl.  In all, 832 birds are admitted, including 17 Bald Eagles– both new records. Osprey Observation Deck is completed and dedicated at this year’s Friends and Family Celebration.

2012 is a year of records at the Medical Center. The all-time record for birds admitted is set at 1,014, making CRC the largest raptor center in the country by admissions this year. Patient #16,000 is admitted, a Barred Owl. A single day record of patients in treatment is set at 203, making for a crowded Rehabilitation Trail. A new single month record of 152 patients is admitted in May 2012. Whew! The Owl Forest, a Nature Notebook, is completed and dedicated this year at the Annual Friends and Family celebration.

We mark 2013 with the completion of the third eagle flight cage (108’ long) – The Weyerhaueser Flight Training Facility.

Patient #17,000 is admitted, an Osprey, along with 906 other patients this year. The Vulture Culture exhibit is added to the Raptor Trail, celebrating all things vulture.

893 patients are admitted in 2014 including patient #18,000 – an Osprey. The Wendy Ella Guilford Owl Observatory is ready for visitors and becomes part of our monthly Behind the Scenes Tour.

RaptorMed is now used in 11 wildlife facilities around the world including the Beijing Raptor Center in Beijing, China. CRC celebrates 30 years in Latta Plantation Nature Preserve with 30 events during the course of the year.

CRC hosts the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators annual conference in February 2015. Patient #19,000 is admitted – a Red-shouldered Hawk.  First Mayor’s Youth Employment Program summer interns are added to the staff team to great success.

In 2016, we are approaching bird #8,000 to be released and the 20,000th bird admitted. RaptorMed has expanded to 18 facilities – and could be in 25 by year’s end. The 2nd edition of Dr. Scott’s “Handbook of Raptor Rehabilitation” is due out this year.

Executive Directors

  • 1987 – Richard Brown
  • 1989-1996 – Patricia Marcum
  • 1996-1998 – Bill Veach
  • 1999 – Jim Miles
  • 1999-2008 – Alan Barnhardt
  • 2008 -2011 – Joy Braunstein
  • 2011-present – Jim Warren

Interim Executive Directors

  • Jim Arthur
  • Rob Bierregard
  • John Norris