Illinois Raptor Center Rescue
Sick, injured or orphaned birds get a second chance at the Illinois Raptor Center (IRC), a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facility in Decatur. As the largest raptor center in the state, the IRC includes a wildlife hospital, a nature center for on-site educational programming and an outdoor complex for the approximately 30 permanent resident education birds.
“This started in my garage, and it got so big that we become a nonprofit facility,” says Jane Seitz, executive director of the IRC. “Twenty-three years later, we have 25 acres.”
While the facility takes in various mammals, it specializes in birds of prey – hawks, falcons, owls and eagles. According to Seitz, certain birds typically sustain particular injuries, with barred owls usually hit by cars and Cooper’s hawks often flying into windows as they hunt small birds. In addition, the facility cares for birds suffering from starvation, hypothermia and abandonment.
By federal law, each bird can stay at the IRC for 120 days, after which Seitz and Jacques Nuzzo, the center’s program director, decide if the bird is ready for release, needs more time at the facility or should be euthanized. However, Seitz, Nuzzo and the center’s 20-plus volunteers hope to quickly return each animal back to its natural habitat.
“We try to get them in and out as fast as we can because they need to be out there,” Seitz says. “We want them to stay in the wild.”
The IRC also has a “nescue” program, which stands for nest rescue. The effort focuses on reuniting baby birds with their parents, where they belong, according to Seitz.
“In the last three years, he [Nuzzo] has put 16 raptor chicks back into nests,” Seitz says. “If their nest has been destroyed, we’ll put up a nest box or a nest platform, and we put up trail cameras to make sure the parents come back – and they always come back.”
The IRC grew by 10 acres in 2012, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. The property includes a 1,700-square-foot home with a full basement and an attached garage with the lower level of the house devoted to the facility’s nature center.
“We can do personal raptor experiences now,” Seitz says. “For example, if people are interested in bald eagles, we’ll give them a two-hour session and teach them all about the eagles. During the last half hour, they get to hold an eagle on their fist and take pictures.”
In 2013, Ameren Illinois awarded the IRC a grant to build an outdoor complex for the center’s permanent resident education birds, a group of approximately 30 birds. In addition to hosting programs on site, the IRC takes its birds to local schools to give kids an up-close-and-personal look at wildlife.
“The more we teach people and the more they can identify things, the more they’re going to be able to help wildlife in the long run,” Seitz says.
Also in 2013, the IRC received an additional donation that made it possible to renovate the facility’s offices and nature center, and incorporate handicap-accessible updates. The gift also helped the center purchase new grounds equipment, add asphalt to its parking lots, and renovate and repair the wildlife hospital.
“We get all of our funding a dime at a time from people through donations,” Seitz says.