Carolina Raptor Center

Birds of prey are usually seen from afar. But at the Carolina Raptor center in Huntersville, North Carolina visitors can be up close and engage with the birds in the natural world. Take a look.


Birds of prey are usually seen from afar, but at the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, North Carolina, visitors can be up close and engaged with the birds in the natural world.

Take a look.

This is our red-legged seriema, and his name is Ya-Ya.

He's a gentle giant.

He's very curious about everything.

[ Chuckles ]

To understand the mission of the Carolina Raptor Center, you've got to meet Ya-Ya.

So, and what we've done is we've trained him to follow along with us.

So we have these sticks that have a tennis ball attached to them, and when we present them down to the ground, he knows to run up towards the target stick.

After he does that, we bridge him.

So we say, 'Good,' which is just marking the behavior that we want him to do, and then we give him a food reinforcement.

So we mix it up.

Sometimes he gets berries.

Sometimes he gets superworms -- things he would naturally eat out in the wild.

No, I can't let you do that.

And it's important to not only meet Ya-Ya, the Center hopes you have what it calls a nose-to-beak encounter with him.

You're so beautiful.

Oh, my gosh.

This is a great thing that we can do.

We can introduce him to visitors.


He's just so curious.

He's like, 'Those people look familiar.

I want to come see them again.'

I like his little...

The little crest.

So this is exactly why we have a bird like him so we can get him out really close to people 'cause a really close experience is what makes it so special.

It makes people really care about these birds.

We want to get them in front of people, so that's the whole training part -- getting them used to people, not being nervous when they're in front of a group of people, and then we would love to show something that they would do in the wild.

Ya-Ya was born at another avian park and given to the Raptor Center.

He's one of 85 birds who are permanent residents.

A lot of people just don't know that birds have their own experiences.

They have their own personality.

You don't normally think about that, and I think it's just because we see them so much from a distance, and a lot of our job here is showing that off to people.

The Center's mission includes environmental education and environmental stewardship.

It's believed that is best accomplished by getting people as close to birds as possible, whether it's on display or trained.

He is actually so far along in his training that I can voluntarily check his feet.

So I'll just give him a reward first, and then I'll just slightly pick up one of his feet...and check it.


We train our birds to show off all of their natural behaviors to show people and get them up close to have these really great nose-to-beak experiences with them so they can really learn a lot about their environment and feel empowered to go out and do something for the natural world.

But we can also use training to help us on our husbandry side of things.

So we can train them to go to a scale to get weights on them, to get health indicators.

There's a lot we can do just to overall improve their lives.

This is a typical chart of a barred owl.

So he came in 27 days ago.

A barred owl's a very common bird that we see around here, and here's an x-ray.

The mission also includes the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned raptors.

The medical center treats about 1,000 birds every year.

About 70% of those are released back into the wild.

And in this case, you can see this poor guy has two broken shin bones -- tibiotarsus.

He probably got clipped by the hood of a car, and he's actually a real trouper.

Could you imagine having two broken legs?

And here he is two weeks later with bright white steel implants in both legs.

We repaired both bones on separate days 'cause it would be pretty hard on him if we did them all at once, and he's doing quite well.

He's actually starting to stand on those legs, and if all goes well, we'll be removing those implants in about -- I don't know -- three and a half more weeks.

He'll be with us for a while to recuperate and to get back into flight shape and all that thing, but he's healing quite well.

And that brings us back to Ya-Ya.

Their habitat is grassland, so he's probably looking at that like, 'This is perfect.'

About half of the Center's resident birds are brought out for education.

Ya-Ya seems happy about his job.

So, if you hold out your stick here...


...that's the signal to come over here, right?


So he is supposed to touch his beak on the tennis ball, and then he'll get his reward.

So, if I'm standing here, that's gonna throw things off, or will that...?

I don't think so.

You can try.

Let's try.


He's a little interested in other things right now.


And then you reward the behavior?


So the 'Good' is our bridge.

So that lets him know that that's what we wanted.

As soon as he touched his beak to the tennis ball, I bridged and then gave him the reward,