Just outside of Pueblo Colorado along the banks of the Arkansas River is a facility dedicated to education, conservation and recreation known as the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo Colorado. The Raptor Center is a small part of the facility that is dedicated to housing and rehabilitating birds of prey from the surrounding area. The Raptor Center has been open since 1981 and they treat several hundred birds annually and are a permanent home to several birds that are unable to be released back into the wild due to the extent of their injuries. These permanent ‘guest’ birds are used in educational programs and demonstrations given at the Raptor Center. People can also book educators and birds from the center to come and make on site presentations for a fee.
The staff at the Raptor Center, which consists primarily of volunteers and part time workers, are incredibly friendly people who were more than happy to take time to visit and also bring several of the birds out of their enclosures allowing me to get better pictures. (And for them to show off their birds which they take special pride in.) Without them it would be nearly impossible to get such up close and detailed shots of these fantastic (sometimes creepy looking) birds.
Since this is a rehab center for the raptors, the birds have all suffered some trauma or another. Sometimes it’s a damaged wing, or a claw, or in the case of the Peregrine Falcon below it’s a wound to her keel bone that you can see in the middle of her breast. Although all of these birds have been injured, some permanently, they are still gorgeous creatures to behold in person.
Since raptors are birds of prey, they are meat eaters, and that means that the leftovers from meal time can be a bit gruesome for the squeamish. Since the birds don’t have the room, or in some cases, the ability to hunt down their prey they are fed fresh ‘kills’ made up of such juicy treats as rabbits and mice. Judging by the picture below they don’t seem to mind the selection.
I spent a couple of hours at the Raptor Center taking pictures of their guests and visiting with the nice people working there. I had read online that a visit to a raptor center was a fantastic opportunity for a photographer with even a passing interest in bird photography. The Raptor Center in Pueblo convinced me that it’s true and I will be looking for other ones closer to home to visit in the future. While it would be more natural and more adventurous to seek these birds out in the wild and be able to photograph them there, there is something special about being just a few feet away from them and getting to see their personalities and quirks. Plus I wouldn’t be able to afford a lens that would zoom in close enough to get a shot like the one below, if I had to shoot this in the wild.
As a parting comment, conservation and rehabilitation centers this one operate almost entirely off of donations. If you choose to visit rehab centers like this one as part of your photographic outings please be kind and help donate a little something extra to help keep them open for both the sake of the birds, as well as for future photographers who may want to have a similar experience.
Additional pictures from my visit to the Raptor Center can be found online on at Flickr by clicking here.