Flight Pens at Base Heal Broken (Bird) Wings
Bird Treatment and Learning Center treats all sorts of injuries
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON - There are plenty of things on military bases that are “top secret,” including a little-known facility on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It’s a flight center that has nothing to do with fighter planes or fancy jets. Instead, it’s a place where injured birds go to heal their broken wings.
The Bird Treatment and Learning Center is the non-profit organization that operates the center.
“This gives them a chance to prove that they can fly in the wild, or not,” says Bird TLC volunteer Dave Dorsey. Dorsey explains that the flight pens are the last stop for injured birds after they have been treated at the Bird TLC clinic. The clinic accepts wild birds from around the state with all types of injury or illness, everything from runs-ins with cars and electric wires to gunshot wounds. The flight pens are the final phase in the rehab process.
“Just imagine yourself with a broken arm or a leg,” says Dorsey. “When you first get out of the cast you aren't at full strength and that's exactly the same with these guys. They need to get their flight strength back.”
Most of the birds at the flight center are large eagles. On the day we visited there were six of them in one flight pen. An adjoining pen held a snowy owl that had recovered from an eye injury on the North Slope and was getting ready for transport back to be released. Two ravens also undergoing rehab were in the final pen.
Volunteers from Bird TLC visit the flight pens every other day to feed the birds and check on their progress. Dorsey, who has been coming to the center for more than three years, says he keeps his visits short on purpose. He doesn’t want the birds to become used to their human caregivers.
“Not many people know about us,“ says Dorsey. “And that’s a good thing. These birds need rest and too much interaction is a stressor for them. They won’t recover as well or as fast under stress.”
Most of the birds have been there for months. One eagle has been there for several years.
Dorsey says most of the birds at the flight center will be released later this spring. Those whose injuries keep them from being able to return to the wild will become “education birds.” Bird TLC will help to find them homes, not just in Alaska but across the country.