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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Birds of prey

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Injured falcons, owls, vultures, hawks and other carnivorous birds, also known as raptors, are housed in a small building nestled in the woods of Rocky Point, North Carolina, a two-stoplight town.

The Rocky Point Animal Hospital, owned by veterinarian Dr. Joni Gnyp, shares its facility with a nonprofit organization Gnyp started four years ago, the Cape Fear Raptor Center.

Pip and Squeak, two baby screech owls, are among the center’s smallest inhabitants. The two nest mates arrived at the center after a logger cut down their tree in March 2014. They were rescued by someone who found their nest on the ground.

“Pip and Squeak have nutritional cataracts from not being fed well while they were on the ground,” Gnyp said.

Since the birds do not see well enough to survive in the wild, they will spend the rest of their lives indoors. Instead of spending all their time in a cage, the young owls will visit schools, Boy Scout troops and other groups to help educate the public and raise awareness about the raptor center.

In order to use the birds for educational purposes, Gnyp obtained permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife owns the birds. We just have permits to keep them,” Gnyp said.

Pip and Squeak are two of the center’s seven education birds. As birds raised in captivity, they are tame enough for people to pet.

Nero, a red-tailed hawk with a shiny coat of brown-and-white feathers, is also an education bird.

“He had a gunshot wound to the face area, so he has some blindness issues. He can see well enough to eat, but not well enough to fly around,” Gnyp said.

The bird’s calm, silent demeanor makes him ideal for public events, including the Medieval demonstration that took place in Hugh MacRae Park on Saturday, Aug. 29.

While many raptors prefer solitude, Zack the turkey vulture and Stormy the osprey are comfortable sharing a cage.

“Vultures and ospreys usually get along pretty well,” Gnyp said.

Zack arrived at the shelter after being hit by a car, and Stormy was rescued after breaking a wing.

“Stormy fell out of a nest and broke his right wing. Because of that, he’s not able to fly,” Gnyp said.

Gnyp and the center’s volunteers ensure each bird receives the same type of food it would eat in the wild.

“Owls eat mice, ospreys eat fish, and vultures eat anything dead, like venison,” she said.

Gnyp also explained the birds used for education are kept out in the open in the center, where they see dogs and other animals passing by from the animal hospital, while the birds being rehabilitated to be released into the wild are kept in a private room, where they only see the people who feed them.

“We don’t want the releasable birds to get too used to people,” she said.

Some of the birds that can still fly live in cages or a shed just outside the center. Adelaide the barred owl, another education bird, lives outdoors. Gnyp slipped a black leather glove on her hand before allowing Adelaide to perch on her fingers.

“You want to handle these with gloves because their talons are sharp and their feet are super strong,” Gnyp said.

Due to a wing fracture, Adelaide creates noise when she flies.

“In the wild, she’d never catch anything because she’d scare off her prey,” Gnyp said.

Archie, a screech owl, lives in a shed outside.

“People always want his picture, but inevitably, he turns,” Gnyp said as Archie swiveled his head 180 degrees toward the opposite side of the shed.

Gnyp said the raptor center’s location on the Rocky Point Animal Hospital’s facility will become less ideal as she rescues more birds.

“It’s good that we have easy access to anesthesia and whatever else we need for surgery, but it’s difficult to educate people about the birds because it’s super busy back there. It’s not really an environment we can bring 15 people through,” she said.

Gnyp hopes corporate sponsorships will help her afford to move to a larger facility.

“Duke Energy did give us a significant donation this year because we had a bird that came from their area,” she said.

After the center receives sufficient financial support, Gnyp plans to build a new facility with a classroom. She wants the next Cape Fear Raptor Center to be a place where children celebrate birthdays and families come together to learn about North Carolina’s various birds of prey.

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