Raptor Center coordinator heals birds


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Jodeane Cancilla gently approached the bird blind and gestured at the multitude of creatures scurrying about for food.

Quietly, allowing for natural sound to have the spotlight, she identified several songbirds, including a bright red cardinal and a goldfinch pecking away at feeders. The bird blind is an area to observe the songbirds and mammals that make their home near the Macbride Raptor Center.

Raptors are birds of prey, and Cancilla's favorite is the barred owl, which was the first raptor she identified in the wild.

Barred owls have a distinct hoot that sounds like, "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all," Cancilla said and chuckled.

As the Raptor Center's coordinator, she is responsible for keeping track of the volunteers' duties, caring for and rehabilitating the raptors, and maintaining the natural landscape. It is apparent in the way she handles and respects the raptors that her occupation is a perfect fit.

In 1985, officials founded the project as the University of Iowa Raptor Rehabilitation Center, and in 1995 the project was renamed Macbride Raptor Project.

Their goal is to preserve Iowa's birds of prey in their natural habitats and to educate the community.

Birds that can no longer survive in the wild call 16 cages their permanent homes. In one, an injured hawk picks apart a mouse with his sharp beak. In another, a barred owl that was raised by humans perches on a branch puffing out his chest making him deceptive in size.

Cancilla makes sure that all of the volunteers are doing their parts in order to keep the center running smoothly and to keep returning raptors to the wild.

Volunteer's jobs range from feeding the birds to rehabilitating the raptors in the flight cages. Dave Ashton, a construction worker, helped create the flight cages that attempt to mimic a natural habitat.

"Our goal is to make sure those fractures are less painful so the bird can fly," Cancilla said.

As an expert in the area, she said there are other benefits to working outside at the nature center other than the rehabilitation of injured birds of prey.

"I encourage college kids to come and visit a place like this for relaxation," she said.

Phil Cronin, an educational specialist for the project and partner to Cancilla, helps to create awareness about some of the things that cause injuries to raptors.

"I love doing educational programs," he said. "Ninety percent of the accidents [the birds] come by are human-related."

The center provides around 300 educational programs in which more than 10,000 people participate each year.

Being a specialist on raptors is something that Cancilla succeeds at with ease. She said raptors are a good indicator of what is happening with the environment.

"They are at the top of the food chain, like us," Cancilla said. "They help us to know what is going on — if there is a decline in a population, we can figure out where it is coming from."

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