After presenting at a Raptor Festival for Owl’s Nest in 2016, I had dinner with Patrick Bradley, who was the director of The Narrows Environmental Education Center at George C. McGough Park‘s Bird of Prey program in Largo, Florida at the time. He asked if I would be interested in coming out to do a site visit and see their birds. The next day I toured the park and was hooked. I began volunteering as a trainer (for both the animals and volunteers) and educator, while myself being mentored by Patrick, a master falconer, in (new to me) training techniques.
The raptors we cared for included 10 eastern screech owls, 2 American kestrels, 2 barred owls, 3 red-shouldered hawks, 3 great horned owls, 3 red-tailed hawks, a Mississippi kite, turkey vulture, black vulture, and female bald eagle. I became one of the senior trainers and was able to be a part of the initial training team for a red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, kite, and the eagle. Aside from training and handling I was also responsible for husbandry including preparing diets, managing weights, cleaning habitats, checking gear, and performing visual and physical health assessments.
Most of our programs were targeted to the general public, however, we also had strong ties to Bay Pines Veteran Hospital through our Avian Veteran Alliance Program (AVA). AVA works with Recreational Therapists to provide eco-therapy to many local veterans. Using nature as therapy is nothing new as we have always spent time outdoors to relax and unwind but, it has become recognized more recently as a legitimate method of caring for mental health. Through the AVA program, our birds helped over 2,000 individuals in the journey to a healthier state.
For more information about Patrick Bradley’s experience which led to the development of AVA I encourage you to check out Dava Guerin and Kevin Ferris’ book Vets and Pets. Chapter nine of the book highlights Patrick’s history.
In April 2019, mine and Patrick’s chapter at the Narrow’s came to an end. Now we are both able to focus on our next chapter which will be AMAZING!
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