Duncan, British Columbia — They're apex predators, but in this place raptors capture more than prey. They capture imaginations.

This refuge and attraction in the Cowichan region of British Columbia is devoted to helping people get face to face with big birds that they usually only see from a distance: "So we work with eagles, owls, hawks, vultures, we have some kookaburras," one-hundred-and-forty birds in all, according to manager Robyn Radcliffe, who has been championing these birds, and the species they represent, for 14 years at The Raptors.

Robyn Radcliffe and Elton the owl
Elton is a spectacled owl
Erickson, Anne

She and her staff of wildlife biologists and falconers are devoted to preserving these birds in the wild by bringing people closer to them here.

And by close we mean 'human used as a perch' close: "You caught a hawk!" Radcliffe exclaimed after she guided Anakin the Harris Hawk to land on the gloved hand of Abby Jones, an elementary-school aged girl visiting for the day.

Abby catches a hawk
Robyn Radcliffe helps a student hold a hawk
Erickson, Anne

"When you get to meet them up close you really feel a connection with nature.” Radcliffe said.

The flight demonstrations that take place every day at 1:30 here are heavy on the flight.

These birds are free to take off, and sometimes, they do.

Manwe the bald eagle once flew away during a demonstration at another site miles away from the center. Robyn and her crew were devastated, until a few days later he showed up back at home, soaring with some newfound eagle friends, before returning to his human flock.

Manwe the Bald Eagle at The Raptors
Manwe the bald eagle during a flight demonstration at The Raptors
Erickson, Anne

Some birds, like Boeing, a peregrine falcon mix, have jobs.

"He's actually one of our working superstars. He's worked at airports as far as Nova Scotia," Radcliffe explained he uses his hunting skills to keep airports free of nuisance birds - and airline passengers safe.

There are also some kookaburras at The Raptors as well, even though they’re not raptors, they’re kingfishers. They add some comic relief, because as Radcliffe demonstrates, kookaburras really do laugh.

A visit to The Raptors is all about education. As a turkey vulture flaps into the air and lands on her glove, Radcliffe explains the bright red bald head in no uncertain terms: "They're bald because they stick their faces into guts and intestines."

As she holds the turkey vulture and talks about the bird’s role as a member of nature’s corpse clean-up crew, it’s clear, this place is also about up close appreciation for creatures we usually only see circling above.

“We work with these amazing birds, we feel so privileged to work with them,” said Radcliffe.

The Raptors 1877 Herd Rd. Duncan, BC V9L 5W4 250-746-0372

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