Raptors, eagles, birds of prey, being chased across a lawn by a kid. That’s how I first encountered the Alaska Raptor Canter. It was set in a back yard to care for injured eagles. In 1983 it moved to the Sheldon Jackson College Campus. Jerry Deppa loved the birds and set up mews on campus to house injured eagles. The local vet volunteered to help repair wings and beaks. Eagles that could be restored to the wild were, some in Alaska and some down south to help repopulate our national emblem. Those that could not went to zoos or became educational birds for the center, participating in lectures on how eagles function.
And that’s how my kids became involved. Birds that could be rehabilitated had to strengthen themselves for flight. So, the center stretched a line across the lawn at Seldon Jackson College. They tethered the eagles to the line and kids, our kids, ran toward them, waving arms to get the eagles to fly, still tethered, along the length of the campus quad, strengthening their wings, getting ready for freedom. That was their reward for cleaning the mews.
Sometimes we had eagle releases, often on holidays like Easter, where released eagles soared out over Starrigavan. Kevin learned how to use a camera taking portraits of eagles in the mews.
Things have changed. The center took over the old campus of Islands Community College (it is now University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus in another location) in 1993. The mews are more elaborate. With the help of Cruise Line donations there are flight barns with slat roofs to let in the elements where eagles can build strength and learn to fly again. There is a hospital with an operating room, an interpretive center where people see films about eagles and often get to meet one. In the last non pandemic year 40,000 visitors came. Some adopt an eagle, there are still plenty of birds that run into power lines, get hit by cars or sometimes shot. So, there are lots of patients. The center treats 200 birds a year. There is an area where eagles that can’t be released live out their lives and people can get close enjoy them. But most eagles find their freedom. And there are other birds at the center, owls, including a snowy owl, and a golden eagle. A second flight barn can accommodate them. But there are still volunteers who care for the birds.
And the center has a nature trail with interpretive that runs along Indian River (Kaasda Héen) and up into the muskeg where the eagles are released. The center has 17 acres. It’s a good place to take grandkids, and a good memory for their father who chased eagles across the Sheldon Jackson lawn.