The Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is about one hour outside Dallas on the shore of Lake Lavon in rural but fast-developing Collin County to the north. The actual site lies on Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) land that the Raptor Center has leased from ACE since 2004. The center encompasses a very fertile strip of land that once ran from San Antonio up to Oklahoma known as the Blackland Prairie, mostly disappeared, and one of the largest lost habitats in the U.S. The Raptor Center also encompasses an old ACE park that was abandoned due to lack of funding known as Brockdale Park, east of the City of Lucas. Scouts frequently use the area for camp outs.
What are raptors? They are birds of prey that live on other animals and do not eat plants. Examples of raptors include eagles (there are bald eagles in the area), owls of all kinds, hawks, falcons, osprey and caracara. All these birds are fairly large and all have sharp claws, called talons, and hooked beaks that help them grasp and tear apart their prey. Of course, these birds also are quite dangerous if you try to hold them without adequate training and protection, as a healthy raptor puts 200 pounds of pressure into the talon and can cause a lot of damage to humans. The people at the Raptor Center who know what they’re doing take no chances —they wear protective gloves when holding the birds.
The Raptor Center is a charitable organization run by a staff of three, on a very slim budget (under $200,000). Its very enthusiastic director, Erich Neupert, has put together one of the 10 best centers of its kind in the country with the help of about 60 volunteers, all with hardly anyone noticing, save the police, game wardens, and local veterinarians who are called upon when a raptor is injured by accident or malfeasance. It’s against the law to hurt these animals, and there is a hefty fine awaiting those that do, but most of the time the raptors fly into windows, cars, netting or some other human-made hazard. Birds are brought to the Center from all over Texas and Oklahoma. Two years ago, the center opened a hospital to care for and release these animals, if possible. The hospital is doing so well that the next expansion of the center is to move the hospital to a permanent bigger building. This year the Center is set to take in around 700 injured raptors to nurture back to health.
The main work of the Raptor Center since its opening in 2004 is education. Erich and his staff regularly visit schools, outdoor shows and exhibitions to explain the usefulness of raptors and to allow school children to learn about these descendants of dinosaurs. Last year, the Raptor Center did about 200 of these offsite educational visits.
The Raptor Center is open to the public on the first Saturday of the month ($5 adult admission) to see what it offers. Non-public parts of the Center have huge, well-constructed, sturdy and wind-proof cages where recovering raptors fly built to stringent government specifications by volunteers. As the raptors eat rodents, snakes, insects, rabbits, squirrels, skunk and similar living creatures, they are necessary in our eco-system to keep everything in balance. The Raptor Center has a rat breeding shed where it raises rats to teach baby raptors how to hunt, but most of its food arrives frozen from zoo feed supply sources.
More information is available online at bpraptorcenter.org.