How We Care For Birds

Husbandry Cover

Resident Bird Care Volunteer Connie Thompson and Dr. Dave Scott work on one of CRC's resident Eagles. File photo.

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I never expected anyone to take care of me, but in my wildest dreams and juvenile yearnings, I wanted the house with the picket fence from June Allyson movies. I knew that was yearning like one yearns to fly. – Maya Angelou

Carolina Raptor Center’s Resident Bird Care program is designed around the principles, mission statements, and philosophies of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (, the use of positive reinforcement, and the idea that all bird residents at our facility will have optimum quality of life through quality housing, care, food, training, and enrichment.

Our avian keepers take great care of our residents. Our collection hovers anywhere between 90 and 100 birds, with about half of that number being “display only” and the other half being birds that we bring out for education programs, flight shows, and other events.

Health Checks
Display birds are caught up for health checks several times a year to ensure their weights are at a good level, beaks and talons are not overgrown, and to check for any other issues that may have cropped up. These checks can include getting a weight, assigning a keel score (the keel is the fused breast bone that covered by muscles and fat), coping a beak and trimming talons, drawing blood for labs, doing an x-ray, checking eyes with an ophthalmoscope, etc. We take blood several times over the course of a birds life to be able to identify what is normal for that species and that specific bird. This enables us to determine if a bird might be fighting infection (raptors do not usually show any signs of internal illness unless they are very ill) and also gives us more information about the birds in captivity as compared to their wild counterparts. The data from the many health checks over a bird’s life also lets us know what is normal for that specific bird since no bird is truly the same! Trained or manned birds are checked daily by their trainers. Full health checks happen less often as these birds are trained to go to a scale, let us feel their keel for weight and muscle mass, check their beaks and talons, and look at their feet (foot health is very important for these birds since they never lie down!). 

Enclosure Cleaning
Our aviaries are cleaned several times a week by staff, interns, and volunteers. We scrub perches and water dishes, rake away organic matter like leaves and pine needles to keep mold away, clear off spiderwebs, etc. We use an eco friendly cleaner to keep the enclosures looking spiffy without negatively impacting the environment.

Our birds are fed a daily diet representing what they would eat in the wild as closely as possible. Depending on the species, this could include: fish, rats, mice, voles, song birds, quail, venison, superworms, crickets, fruits, vegetables. Each bird in our collection gets a specific amount of food based on weight, species, time of year, etc. They also receive supplements like vitahawk and calcium several times each week.

Collection Planning
Our curator and keepers work together to keep a variety of native and non-native species in our collection. Each bird, whether display or trained, is looked at as a member of our staff team and have a job to do: they inspire the public and help us educate about conservation on a state, national, and even world wide scale! Many people think our birds are all permanently injured, but this is not the case. A number of birds in our collection are captive bred in zoos or other high quality facilities and live at Carolina Raptor Center to be ambassadors for their species in the wild. 

A number of species at Carolina Raptor Center have bred in the past, with many of  the young of native species being released back into the wild. Derek and Savannah, our resident Bald Eagles, are probably the most well known of this bunch, but our Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls have also had young in the past. A number of our species also act as foster parents during the spring season when a number of young birds end up in our hospital, including our Turkey Vultures, Great Horned Owls, and Barn Owls.