Fly Like an Eagle
Raptor Rehab gets wounded birds soaring again
By Drew Harris
Rodney Paul’s lifelong fascination with birds started in his childhood learning how to identify songbirds. After serving 11 years in the Army, fittingly in avionics, Paul relocated to Arkansas and started working at the Little Rock Zoo in the education department. There, he worked with a volunteer who sparked his interest in rehabilitation and helped him start up Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas, (RRCA)located in El Paso.
Raptor Rehab’s stated goal is to foster sick or orphaned birds of prey and release them back into the wild. RRCA has rehabilitated and released close to 2,000 birds in nearly 17 years of operation and is one of only three facilities in the state licensed to handle bald and golden eagles.
Despite working full-time jobs, Paul and his wife, Melissa, have grown the RRCA into the largest facility of its type in Arkansas. They hold a raptor rehabilitation and education permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and rely heavily on wildlife officers of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for pickup and transport of distressed birds.
“A lot of them go a long way out their way to transport birds to us,” Paul said.
Diet is very important among young raptors, which can eat as much as a third of their weight every day in fish, rats or mice. Lucky adults receive an occasional chicken drumstick. A recently arrived fledgling red-shouldered hawk required chopping a mouse into digestible chunks, not what one might expect.
Paul estimates the most birds he’s had at once at approximately 70 and it’s hard work feeding and caring for that many raptors on the roughly 3 acres of property. The organization’s 10 or so volunteers are essential and vary from lawyers, students and nurses. RRCA even offers an internship program for college credit.
“I could not do this without the volunteers. There’s no way,” he said.
Paul said the best thing to do with a found bird is to leave it alone, for it is most likely learning how to do “bird things.” Many young birds transferred into his care suffer from malnutrition after being improperly fed by well-intentioned people who don’t know a bird needs flesh, bone and organ meat in its early stages of development.
From barn and great horned owls, bald and golden eagles to peregrine falcons, Paul has seen them all. But birds of prey can be dangerous even for the experienced, and he has received stitches around his mouth in two different incidences with bald eagles.
While a great number of his guests come after storms when juvenile birds have been blown from nests, many are also due to human activity such as collisions with vehicles or shootings. Lead poisoning, primarily from unrecovered game, has become more prevalent in recent years and is especially difficult to treat. Over his many years, Paul has only been able to save one bald eagle from the effects of lead poisoning.
“A lot of people don’t realize bald eagles are scavengers, just like vultures. They’ll eat anything,” he said. “That’s where the threat of lead poisoning comes from. Usually by the time we get a bald eagle, it’s beyond recovery.”
Most birds that cannot be released are given to educational programs or become RRCA Ambassadors. Paul has sent birds to six states and all bald eagles are sent to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for a breeding program.
RRCA is a nonprofit organization and does not receive any state or federal funds, operating solely on the contributions of volunteers and donors. Although the rehabilitation facility is not available for tours due to federal law, they offer private presentations about 40 times a year to civic groups, churches and corporations to help educate the public about raptors and the niche they have in the environment.
Facebook: Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas
www.rrca-raptors.org (501) 450-2653