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Predator and Prey

We made one the symbol of our country. Before that, the American Indian revered them. Now the Ojai Raptor Center spreads its wings, expanding into a new facility where it can better rehabilitate orphaned and injured birds of prey.

By Nancy Merrick—Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez

This Eastern screech owl named Riley was hit by a car. An eye injury prevents him from being released into the wild.

 

im Stroud looks up from the injured baby mockingbird she is holding. She is feeding it with an eyedropper, holding it close to a heating pad in her van, trying to keep it warm. She knows it will need to be fed again—in exactly forty-five minutes. So when she finishes this feeding, she’ll go inside and give a precisely timed presentation to some local school children, then return to the van for the next feeding.

As the director of the Ojai Raptor Center, Stroud is a saint to birds and small mammals. But one wonders if she ever has time for a day off, or even a nap. “Thankfully,” she says, “Patagonia, where I work, encourages employees to serve the community. So everyday at work I have animals at my feet where I can tend to them.”

Stroud holds a great horned owl named Dakota, who was kept as a pet and can never be released. This, she explains, “is the most preventable injury.”

Stroud shares some of the responsibility with a team of “super-dedicated volunteers,” but it’s clear that she is the organization’s driving force: tending to animals before and after work, giving presentations, seeking permits and donations, even answering the phone twenty-four hours a day. “I don’t want anyone to feel that we didn’t help,” she says.

Stroud, who has championed the cause for seventeen years, is the founder of the Ojai Raptor Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of injured, orphaned, and displaced birds of prey in Ventura County. The ORC is licensed by California State Fish & Game and Federal Fish & Wildlife, and relies solely on charitable contributions for its operations.

Kim Stroud in the aviary with Rosie the red-tailed hawk.

Construction is underway on a new center that will allow ORC to expand and provide better care. Located on the west campus of HELP of Ojai, the site of the old Honor Farm, the facility will include several buildings, cages, flyways, and aviaries. One of the buildings under renovation has the word “Gestation” written over the doorframe, signaling back to the days when it was dedicated to swine propagation as part of the Honor Farm. Stroud’s brother, Jesse Ridenour, points out that it is nice to see the property becoming a new sort of rehabilitation center.

One of Stroud’s favorite success stories is the case of a golden eagle flown in from Tehachapi by a local volunteer. The eagle recovered in just three months, rather than the usual two years. When it was ready to be released, the pilot flew it back to the same ranch from which it had been recovered. He asked the rancher if he had noticed any other golden eagles on the property, hoping to release this one nearby. The rancher responded by pointing out a tree where the bird’s mate could often be found.

A golden eagle, Shytan’s wing was severed on a power line.

And sure enough, there it was. They released the eagle, and immediately the pair began circling around each other in their mating patterns. “I got a call from the pilot at that moment,” Stroud says, “and she was crying. ‘You can’t believe what I’m seeing,’ she told me. I just wish I could have been there.”

The ORC has become a recognized center of excellence in California, receiving birds from throughout the Tri-Counties, and other parts of Southern California when specialty care is not locally available. The Center is collaborating with researchers from UC Davis to minimize heavy metal poisonings, with Edison Company to provide care to electrocuted birds and to reduce electrocutions, and with other organizations to monitor disease such as West Nile Virus.

Cataract surgery saved this bald eagle’s eyesight.

Asked how locals can reduce injuries to Ventura County birds, Stroud encourages us to be tolerant of local wildlife, and to learn how to live in harmony with them. “That noisy barn owl will probably quiet down after two weeks, once its mating season is over,” she explains. “And some hawks survive by killing and eating songbirds, but that doesn’t mean you should hurt the hawk or stop having a birdfeeder, especially when we are losing trees from our critical migratory flyways.”

If you find an injured animal, Stroud recommends checking the Department of Fish and Game’s listing of wildlife rehabilitators (see website below). And if you find a baby bird, look for its nest. “As long as it’s not injured, the best thing you can do is to put the baby back into the nest,” she says. “The parents won’t reject it because you’ve touched it. That’s just an old wives’ tale.”

For now, watching the amount of time it takes her to feed a tiny bird from an eyedropper, one wonders how Stroud manages to oversee the rescue of more than a thousand animals a year. She is an uncommon powerhouse, totally dedicated to these hawks, falcons, owls, and other raptors that grace our local skies and hillsides. “If every school child in Ventura County could raise one dollar,” she says, “we could meet our goal of getting the new Center open and caring for these animals.”

The new site includes this 50-foot flight cage. The 260-foot cage seen in the background will be the largest in California.

As I say goodbye, I wonder what would become of the injured birds were it not for her efforts. I walk to my car wishing I could find all the money the ORC needs—and maybe some extra to hire a personal assistant for Stroud so she could get some rest.

11-01-2009

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