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A Who's Who of Zoos - Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
1101 Audubon Way, Maitland 32751
(407) 644-0190

Admission: Adults $5; children (3 to 12) $4; children under 3 free
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Location: East of I-4, near Exit 88

One of the most enchanting animal encounters to be found in the Orlando area is also one of the cheapest. The Center for Birds of Prey is an endeavor of the Florida Audubon Society. Each year it takes in about 700 wounded and orphaned raptors from all over Florida, tends to their wounds, and nurses them back to health with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. About 40% make it.

You won’t be able to see the rehabilitation process; these birds are shielded from public view lest they become habituated to humans, thus lessening their odds for survival back in the wild. You will be able to see from a distance the “flight barn” and the “rehabilitation mews,” odd looking structures with slatted wooden walls, in which injured birds are nursed back to health, and view a behind-the-scenes video.

You can also see, in a series of attractive aviaries, birds whose injuries are so severe that they cannot be released. Here they lead the good life (at least they eat well and regularly) and perform a useful role in educating Florida school children and others about the wonders of wildlife and the need to protect it. There are about 20 different species of raptors housed here. They range from tiny screech owls to vultures. There are also a fair number of ospreys, red-tailed hawks, kites, and others. A pair of bald eagles, Prairie and T.J., are particularly fascinating. A short video tells the story of their offbeat love affair and touching attempts to have young.

A visit here can be an educational as well as an uplifting experience. While here, I learned for the first time of the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty Act that made it illegal to own or transport even a single feather from these birds. The Center collects every feather from molting birds, as well as feathers from specimens that don’t survive. They are turned over to the government, which in turn distributes them to Native American tribes for whom the feathers of eagles and other species have ritual significance.

A boardwalk leads down to a charming gazebo set in the wetlands along the shore of Lake Sybelia. A small museum tells the history of the Florida Audubon Society. Guided tours are available by reservation for groups of 10 or more and it’s a good idea to call ahead to find out when volunteers will be on hand to answer questions. If a group comes through while you are visiting, feel free to join it. Finding Birds of Prey is a little tricky but it’s worth it. Call ahead for detailed directions.

Nearby: Maitland Art Center, Maitland Historical Museum.

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