After presenting at a Raptor Festival for Owl’s Nest in 2016, I had dinner with Patrick Bradley, the director of The Narrows Environmental Education Center at George C. McGough Park‘s Bird of Prey program in Largo, Florida. He asked if I would be interested in coming out to do a site visit and see their birds. The very next day I took a tour of their park and was instantly hooked. Since then, I’ve volunteered 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 in our care have included 10 eastern screech owls, 2 American kestrels, 2 barred owls, 3 red shouldered hawks, 3 great horned owls, 3 red tailed hawks, a turkey vulture, a black vulture, and a female bald eagle. I am now one of the senior trainers and have been able to be a part of the initial training team for a red tailed hawk, great horned owl and the eagle. Aside from training and handling I am also responsible for husbandry including preparing diets, managing weights, cleaning habitats, checking gear, and performing visual and physical health assessments.
Most of our programs are targeted to the general public, however we also have 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 ligament method of caring for your mental health. Through the AVA program our birds have already 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.