Matilija Press
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The Bird Whisperer
by Patricia Fry

(Published by ASPCA Animal Watch, 2002)

Most days, Kim Stroud tends 20 to 60 birds of prey through the Ojai Raptor Center in Ventura County, California. She admits that birds are her passion.

In 1992, Patagonia, a company that supports environmental concerns, offered employees the opportunity to train with local raptor rehabilitation expert, Jerry Thompson. Stroud volunteered. She says, "Patagonia supplied two-months of paid time which I took one day a week."

When Thompson gave her all of his great horned owls, Patagonia built an aviary on the premises. Currently, this aviary houses all varieties of rehabilitation birds—birds that can be treated and released.

Unfortunately, some raptors come to Stroud so sick and damaged that they can't be released. Her backyard is home to about twenty of them. She calls these her education birds. "We give about 75 presentations a year with them," says Stroud. "We feel that by educating people, we will get fewer birds that are injured by people." She wants the public to know that, "It's against the law to keep these birds. They need a special diet and they need special caging."

The education birds illustrate her message well. Among them are a golden eagle who lost a wing to a bullet, a red-tailed hawk that was crippled by the diet his original captors fed him and a three-year-old great horned owl that was kept as a pet. "That owl," says Stroud, "could live to be 40 years old and she can never fly free because of human imprinting."

Stroud is extremely anxious to get her message across to the public because there's little hope left for raptors that can't be rehabilitated. She says, "I took in 375 raptors last year. If we get any now that cannot be rehabilitated, first we try to place them with another education facility. If we can't do that, we have to euthanize them. That's federal law."

Stroud's volunteer force of 25 includes a veterinarian who does surgeries at a reduced rate and caretakers at three raptor rehabilitation satellite sites. She's also working with the local Humane Society on an educational project to display non-releasable golden and bald eagles. Tim Dewar, Director of Public Relations, says, "We're excited about the prospect of providing a display area for these beautiful birds and expanding our educational offerings."

Patty Perry volunteers for several hours every afternoon at the education bird site. And she shares Stroud's dream for a center. These women envision a lushly vegetated 20-acre parcel where they can build an interpretive center, hospital, living quarters and huge aviaries. "We would build the aviaries right through the trees," says Perry.

Birds seem to be drawn to Stroud as much as she is to them. "They kind of come to me," she says. "The other day we were working with the eagle and a dove was on the ground outside my pigeon coup trying to get in," she laughed.

Birds frequently fly into her office at work. And she can't even escape birds while on vacation. What does she do when she finds an injured robin or seagull while traveling? In spite of protests from her family, she interrupts the vacation to treat the bird and then locates the nearest rehabilitation center.

"Obviously she has a tremendous gift," says Perry. "And I feel blessed that I am able to do this with her."

But both Perry and Stroud wish there wasn't such a need for their work. Perry explains, "We struggle with conflict everyday because these birds aren't doing what God intended for them." She gazes at the one-winged eagle on her heavily gloved hand and says with a hint of melancholy, "This bird should be soaring."

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

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