Nature Center unveils new raptor house for 5 owls in center’s care

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published July 1, 2021

 Barred owl Sam, 8,  is one of five winged residents who will live in the Stage Nature Center’s new raptor house.

Barred owl Sam, 8, is one of five winged residents who will live in the Stage Nature Center’s new raptor house.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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TROY — Five injured and/or sick owls being cared for at the Stage Nature Center received a new, permanent structure at the nature center June 16 with the unveiling of the new raptor house.

The multiyear project began in 2018, when the nature center was chosen to care for the owls after the Pontiac-based Organization for Bat Conservation had to unexpectedly close due to financial issues. It finally came to fruition after a total of $145,000 was raised by community members and the Troy Nature Society, which runs the operations of the nature center. The Troy City Council chipped in $95,000 from the city’s budget to support the project.

“This is the most exciting (project) the society has taken on in the 10 years that we’ve been managing the Nature Center,” Nature Center Executive Director Carla Reeb said. “Really it benefits our community, because we use these owls as educational ambassadors. We do a lot of programming for the public, for Scout groups, (and) for schools, and these raptors are part of it.”

Funding for the project began in the hands of one local 15-year-old, Wyatt Lucas, now 18, back in early 2018, who as a former Boy Scout — now an Eagle Scout — wanted to do something to benefit the nature center.

Through a can and bottle drive, online fundraisers using Facebook, and a T-shirt design that garnered international sales, in England, France, Spain, New Zealand, and elsewhere across the United States — Lucas was able to raise $15,000 to donate to the project.

“When (Lucas) got the nature center to a certain point in fundraising, it was time for the city to step up and add some funds. We jumped at the opportunity to be part of this amazing project,” Troy Mayor Ethan Baker said. The Stage Nature Center is operated by the Troy Nature Society, but the city maintains the grounds.

“We know the value you all bring to our city and community. The people of Troy depend on this 100-acre reserve being open and fully operational.”

Lucas wasn’t the only young resident to step up and help this project get funding, either. Janaire Rowland, now 12, joined the fundraising efforts in 2019, raising $1,300 for the project through fundraisers she held at her school.

“I helped the owls because something in my heart told me I should. I did what my heart told me to and ended up here today,” she said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony June 16.

“So many different pieces of the puzzle fit together to make this happen, and I think it’s a heartwarming experience to see how something like this can be accomplished by the community coming together from all these different places,” Stage Nature Center assistant naturalist and owl handler Christina Funk said.

The new raptor house currently houses five owls — two barred owls, two screech owls and one great horned owl — who are unable to care for themselves in the wild. The news of a permanent structure for the owls also brings with it a big commitment, Reeb said.

“It’s a large commitment we’re making. Now we have the homes for them, and we’re committed to taking care of them for the rest of their days and any future raptors in need of future care,” she said. Future fundraising initiatives will be necessary to continue to provide care for the birds of prey.

“Because we’ve been caring for them for three years, we have a really good grasp of their medical bills, what they need for us to take care of them, the special food they eat,” Reeb said. “We do know it costs us roughly in the area of $1,000-$1,200 a month just to take care of them, meet their medical bills. It’s a costly adventure, but our community really wanted this and indicated it. We know our community will support this. We just have to keep reminding them that we need that monthly support.”

The raptor house is at capacity now, but in the future it could be open to other owls, or possibly injured hawks or eagles. “Our staff is prepared and knows how to care for those (birds), so we may not always just have owls, depending on if we lose one naturally to aging,” Reeb said.

The owls can now be viewed in their permanent home during Stage Nature Center hours, from dawn to dusk, for educational purposes. The owls have adjusted well to their new home, Funk said, which adds ease to their lives and caring for them.  

“Now the owls are actually on display and there’s information about each owl posted on the structure — what their injuries were and (how) we got to have them, and how we care for them. They all have different injuries, so we want the public to know about each specific owl and its challenges,” Reeb said. “None of these (owls) will ever be flightable, and they will never be able to hunt or take care of themselves. Our goal is to see them through till they meet their natural end.”

For more information, visit https://troynaturesociety.org/get-involved/owls.

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