In my experience the Wildlife Recovery Association has a long and distinguished track record of extremely responsible and knowledgeable raptor education. They have presented at our Audubon club several times in the past 25 or so years, presenting to over a hundred people each time. No one has ever expressed anything but praise for the organization and its program. Having seen many raptor presentations over the years, only one other organization Te raptor programs of The World Bird Sanctuary located in St. Louis, MO, is in the class of Joe Rodgers and the Wildlife Recovery Association. It is obvious that both organizations display great regard for their birds and are extremely knowledgeable about raptors and their care. I want to add that the perspective of videos can easily be slanted to make things look different than the reality of an in person experience. If someone with a camera has an "agenda" to show what they want the viewer to see and not what is actually taking place, a wrong impression can be created. So, it seems to me that those relying on videos may be unknowingly deceived.
I worked with this group for years--they love their birds and take great care of them. The birds are healthy and go through a lot of preparation before becoming educational birds.
There is a divide between the WRA's methods and those of falconers, and this has led to an online attack of falconers on this group, most of whom have never actually seen the programs themselves. Please don't let a few angry people on the internet with a grudge persuade you away from this incredible group.
Anyone that is familiar with falconry, rehabilitation, conservation education with birds of prey knows that almost every other raptor-related individual and organization keeps their birds on falconry equipment! Falconry equipment (anklets, jesses, swivel, leash, etc.) allows the bird to stand, rouse, slice (defecate) and be comfortable-- all of which is not allowed by the upper leg hold (which, should only be used in temporary cases, such as medical examinations). This "upper leg hold" method SHOULD NOT be utilized long-term for resident program birds! This terrible method induces stress, which can clearly be seen in the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa77maiU3y0 - raised hackles, stress chittering, gaping mouth/panting, learned helplessness, spread/flapping wings, etc.
After seeing the letter this group posted to Facebook recently I was shocked and appalled that they still feel they are handling bird "correctly" especially compared to the traditional methods that have been used in falconry, education, and rehab for centuries. I work with birds of prey professionally and with proper handling, all of my birds are happy and content to sit on my glove for extended periods of time without being forced to. The birds I have seen in this company's pictures and videos all show signs that I am trained to associate with birds that are highly stressed and uncomfortable. I feel that for this company to retain their licenses they need to observe and work with properly handled birds and work with those handlers to retrain their own birds to be handled properly to increase the well being and comfort of those birds.
This organization has recently put out a letter asking for positive reviews and defending what they call their "safe hold" method. This safe hold method is used in research and for banding when a bird is meant to be in hand for a short amount of time and then released. The videos that have been around of these birds being swung around in front of groups to get them to flap their wings and appear "wild" is just apalling. As a licensed falconer and a professional for 15 years in the zoological field and who also works in raptor rehabilitation, I am very disappointed in this organization. I am even more saddened that after USFWS stepped in and asked them to start handling their birds differently with the use of jesses, they are still trying to defend their methods! Also, in this carefully worded letter they have stated while wearing the jesses and anklets the birds are falling off the glove and hanging from the gloves where they can injure their legs. Now, the job of the educator/trainer is to guide and teach that bird on how to stand on the glove. Their birds had never had this training obviously and a bird that has been trained using positive reinforcement can find a gloved hand a very positive and comfortable place to be. Which is why at ANY other zoological facility or other bird of prey rehab centers train their raptors to stand comfortably on a glove. You will see these birds stretch their wings and legs on the glove, rouse (when they shake and fluff up their feathers) and even preen their feathers (grooming). These are all comfort behaviors in birds. Behaviors they only show when they feel safe and content with their environment. If after all this time their birds are STILL bating off of the glove and not standing comfortably, they are not understanding the basics of positive reinforcement training and need to seek help from other professionals. Many of us in this field are constantly working on our professional development and seeking knowledge from others in our field. This group does not want to seek advice and knowledge from other professionals in their line of work and also state other professionals as being their competitors. Now, I guess I have always felt we all need to work together because we all are in this for the same reasons. We arent making lots of money here, we are doing this for the welfare of these birds. We should not see ourselves as competitors. This organization also states it doesn't like having the birds on a glove because it gives the general public the idea it is acceptable to have these birds as pets. This is ridiculous and as good educators they should be able to teach the general public the difference. These people are very entertaining and charismatic and it is easy for many to believe what they are doing is acceptable. Please do your research before supporting this organization. If they can't be willing to seek help with the training of their raptors and are attempting to go back to their previous methods all their licenses need to be revoked.
WRA has recently put out a carefully-worded flyer requesting positive reviews and support. They claim to have received "overwhelming" support -- which was obviously not overwhelming enough to keep USFWS from ordering them to change their methods or else lose their license. WRA continues to defend their method of holding raptors by the legs during presentations, calling it the "safe" hold and implying the standard "falconry" method of jesses and leashes (which they have been forced to adopt) means the birds are "continuously hanging upside down by their toes."
The so-called "safe" hold is intended for very short periods, just enough to band a bird and gather samples before releasing it. When used in much longer presentations it causes undue stress -- panting, collapsing birds. Photos and videos of WRA in action has shown them swinging birds around dramatically to force them to flap their wings and look "wild," which they think is a real crowd-pleaser. Their birds look exhausted: open mouths, closed eyes, drooping wings. WRA boasts about the long time they have had some of their birds; I see it as having put their birds through this kind of torture for years, even *decades.* This is what they were ordered to stop doing, and yet they continue to defend it.
Educational programs using the falconry method results in birds standing calmly on the glove, wings folded, looking strong as they would be in the wild. At first, completely wild birds do jump off the glove and may hang briefly, but the job of the educator is to place the bird back on the glove immediately to prevent stress to the legs, and reward it for not jumping. It doesn't take long for the bird to learn to stay standing -- training typically takes a few hours a day for a few days at most.
In the flyer WRA says they are preventing bids from jumping off the glove using their "own method of training. " Honestly, I shudder to think what this is, and do not understand why they find it so difficult to use the falconry methods used by nearly every other educational program throughout the country and the world.
I wish it were possible to leave no stars because this facility doesn't deserve any. Their public display of the cruelty they inflict on these raptors, while purporting to admire and respect them, is reprehensible. The uneducated public has no way to know that the methods WRA prefers to use are detrimental to the birds' health, and they blindly defend this facility's practices because the people are charismatic and friendly.
Go to any other zoo or respectable rehab center's educational show and you will see birds standing calmly on handlers' gloves with their wings comfortably folded. Their feathers are clean and tidy, the ends of their tail feathers perfectly shaped--not bent or broken. They are free to scratch an itch if they want to, free to look wherever they choose, able to defecate if they have to. They stand on the glove at ease, just as they would stand on a branch or stone in the wild. Anklets and jesses are no different to a trained raptor than a collar and leash is to a dog, or a halter and lead rope to a horse. This method has been in use worldwide, virtually unchanged for literally thousands of years, because it WORKS.
Go to WRA, and see something else, something despicable. See birds with broken and mussed feathers--birds stressed beyond the capacity to cope, being carried about by their thighs, unable to move, unable to close their wings, their mouths gaping wide in fear and stress. Some are stressed to the point that they close their eyes to the world. Videos WRA has posted for public view show a bird (an owl, if I recall correctly) being handled bodily like a doll; one handler holding a kestrel by the legs flings it gleefully through the air like a child with a paper airplane, causing unimaginable mental stress to the bird as well as physical stress on its tiny bones and joints. How can anyone watch this happen and not be disgusted? If you were that kestrel in front of a crowd of squealing children, would you want to be treated that way?
As a licensed falconer who has volunteered countless hours for rehab facilities and a major zoo, I am appalled to see people being so willfully stubborn and callous even after having been educated in the proper handling methods. They should be ashamed of themselves and their permits should be revoked. The birds would be better off anywhere else, and the public would be better off seeing birds of prey handled respectfully by people who genuinely care.
I wouldn't even give one star if there was an option. Please do your research into proper raptor handling techniques and stress indicators before you give this place a review. These animals should be treated with the respect they deserve.
If their 'upper leg hold' technique is so 'safe', then why does ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ELSE - you can check every major zoological organization in the world's raptor programs for examples of this - use it? Might it be because it is a completely unethical handling technique, to be used only when no other restraints are available, and only for short periods of time? These people actually believe that something called 'learned helplessness' is a viable training method (ie, when they carry raptors around by their legs and they 'lay down on the glove'). The animal has learned that over time, it cannot escape, so it lies down in stressful defeat. They never show signs of comfort or low stress, like rousing (shaking off all of the feathers at once), preening (grooming and rearranging the feathers), or even pooping (raptors cannot defecate when held by the legs, they have to stand up and lift their tails to do so). Please do your research on basic raptor and animal training techniques before supporting this terrible, inhumane organization.
I wish there was a way to leave zero stars as a rating for this organization. As a licensed falconer I am horrified at the handling of the birds by this organization. Every video I have watched and photo I have seen showing them handling their raptors clearly shows use of rough, callus and outdated methods of raptor handling, "tossing" birds through the air to demonstrate flight, swinging them around by their legs - the birds are CLEARLY shocked, stressed, uncomfortable, upset, overheated, and unhappy. They are also in terrible feather and condition. Eyes closed, beak gaping, wings sagging are not signs of a healthy unstressed bird!! Why not demonstrate a calm, relaxed, happy bird and if flight demonstrations are needed - train them to fly to the glove? The "upper leg hold" method should only be used for very short durations of restraint, such as for banding, vet care or measuring wild birds before release. I hope the authorities in charge keeps a close eye on these people so they don't return to their abusive handling of their educational birds. If they are continuing to use these methods their license should be revoked and never renewed.
As someone who is a licensed falconer, has completed an internship at the World Bird Sanctuary in MO, has acquired a degree in a wildlife-related field, and has participated in various other related activities, such as raptor-related research, wildlife education volunteering and the like, it astounds me that the method of handling utilized and the lack of concern for the stress of the birds by WRA occurred for so long. For the birds' sake, I hope the newly implemented usage of leather falconry equipment (anklets, jesses, etc.) will provide the staff with better tools to address this issue, and that the educational birds will be able to be handled in a much safer, and less stressful manner.
Almost all facilities that utilize captive educational raptors in their programs maintain them on leather falconry equipment-- although the upper leg hold is a recognized safe way to temporarily hold birds of prey, (such as in the manner of trapping/banding for research or conducting a medical examination) this upper leg hold is NOT meant to be a long-term go-to, and certainly isn't as safe or comfortable for the birds as leather falconry equipment is.
From my experience, a bird would much prefer standing on its own feet as opposed to being held for long durations at the upper legs, and the videos that surfaced of WRA's programs unfortunately showcased the stress caused by the hold itself and the maneuvers the birds were put into ("zooming through the air" American Kestrel, etc.). These stress indicators include stress-chittering, flapping/wriggling, gaping mouth/panting, and the like. Leather straps do not indicate these birds are "pets," and all of the facilities I am familiar with have never had a problem when it came to explaining why these resident birds were being kept on leather falconry equipment; all it takes is a simple explanation to clear up any misunderstandings. How anyone can condone this form of long-term upper-leg hold handling that produces such stress on these program birds, when there's a safer, better alternative called falconry equipment, is beyond my comprehension.
I have enjoyed presentations by the Wildlife Recovery Association many times. I can't imagine what the people who wrote these negative reviews could have ever seen that would be considered disrespectful or harmful to the birds. Joe Rogers and the rest of the team at WRA are completely respectful and kind to animals. They have rehabilitated and released as many of the birds they have helped as possible. Joe and the other presenters make the programs educational and entertaining for people of all ages. I have been a member of the organization for many years just because I think it is a great group. I do not know any of the volunteers or board members personally.
For many years, my husband and I have attended Joe’s demonstrations whenever he has been within 80 miles of us, and invited others to attend with us. I am constantly amazed at the feeling of respect he shows his birds, the awe he passes on to his audience in his words and actions, as he teaches us that same respect in his unique manner. I am 83 years old and have been a “nature lover” all of my life, and I have never had a more interesting “teacher” than Joe Rogers. (And I certainly never had an opportunity to get up close and personal with so many raptors!)
I have seen the reaction of children and seniors, whether a new experience or a renewal of the love of our natural resources, when viewing this program, and I sincerely hope more folks can have the privilege of learning these lessons for years to come.
Reading other reviews claiming inhumane treatment: they must be talking about a different organization. These demonstrations use birds which cannot fly or be returned to their natural lives, and they are properly handled in order to give the audience a love for them in as natural a way as possible.
The Wildlife Recovery Association is an outstanding organization. Over the past several years I have attended several programs presented by them at nature centers and Audubon meetings and enjoyed them immensely. The presentations are fun, but much more than that. They're also educational, providing lots of information about their birds. And, most importantly, the birds are invariably handled very humanely. I've never noticed any improper handling on the part of the WRA people toward their animals. And every program I've attended was received with much delight by everyone, including, especially, the many children who were present. I look forward to many more enjoyable presentations by the WRA.
I have seen WRA's presentations for over 20 years, visited their location many times while my son did his Eagle Scout project there.
These reviewers obviously have never seen an actual presentation, know nothing of WRA's love, sacrifices or efforts over all these years for the birds within their care.
They will never admit to the sacrifices their family has made to do the wonderful work they do, but I know, from many years of seeing their work results that they LOVE these animals, put the welfare of the birds WELL before their own personal comforts and sacrificed more than any of these people know from simply watching a video.
If you want to see how these birds are loved and respected, VISIT them, ATTEND their events and just talk to them about these wonderful creatures they have rescued and when possible, rehabilitated.
No one there has ever mistreated an animal. They know and understand them. I can tell you these birds are family to the WRA.
I would much rather have someone hold my leg than put leg irons on me.
Before you condemn them, ask why they do what they do and research the many years of excellent work they have accomplished.
I attended the release of an eagle a few years ago and Joe, as he carried the female to the release point, spoke softly and reassuringly to her. She was as calm as could be. When he was ready to release her, she didn't "escape" from him as if she'd been a prisoner. In fact, she hesitated even leaving. It took a few minutes but she did, then, fly to a nearby tree, got her bearings and flew away. Joe, Barb and the staff had tears in their eyes, happy to have been able to return her to the wild.
Walk in their shoes, visit and volunteer and THEN, let's see what you think of this organization.
I am proud to see the fruits of their efforts and KNOW they are the best of people.
The birds are put into positions where they have no control over anything and are not able to comfortably sit on the glove. Every video I watch the birds have their wings spread out and mouths open panting- they look absolutely terrified. I'm around raptors and handlers a lot and I know how they should be properly handled. Very saddening that the birds are probably beyond repair and will never learn to step up on a glove without being forced (at least with these people anyways). How these people still have a permit, I don't know.
I have watched several videos and seen numerous pictures of their educational programs and I am absolutely appalled by how these people treat their educational birds. They grab them by the legs, essentially disabling them, and then toss and jerk them around the room to make them flap their wings and show off their feathers. These are living, breathing, wild animals and they are being treated like toy airplanes. Every single image I have seen of the birds shows stressed and fearful body language; open-mouth breathing, hackles raised up, quick and jerky head movements as they are moved around people they do not know. These birds are terrified! Training a bird to jess and sit on the glove via their own free will takes time. Acclimating that bird to be comfortable in front of an audience takes even longer. But if these people are not willing to take the time and effort it takes to give these birds the quality of life they deserve than they have no business working with them.
After seeing educational programs provided by this organization, I am appalled at the treatment of the birds. They are handled with disregard for their own safety and comfort. They are treated as a prop rather than a living creature. As a raptor rehabilitation and educator, I know what constitutes quality care and WAS does not do this. The birds are clearly stressed out, unhappy, and frightened. They are manhandled by the educators, shoved into the faces of people, and hurled about by their legs in an unsafe manner. The disrespect and obvious lack of understanding of safe handling techniques makes me sad for those birds and for the people who now believe this is how they should be treated. This program needs to be shut down.
Review from Guidestar