For curious and outdoorsy Charlotteans, the Carolina Raptor Center is the perfect place to spend a weekend day. Eagles, hawks, vultures and other majestic birds await your visit.
The center is home to 97 birds from more than 35 different species. Walking along the Raptor Trail, you’ll encounter these resident birds chilling in their enclosures and learn tons of fun facts about them while you’re at it. It’s a great way to get educated, get outdoors, and make some new winged friends.
And the fun isn’t limited to walking around the Raptor Trail, either. You can sign up for events, like the summer Flight Show or a Raptor Encounter, that allow you to get much more up close and personal with the birds instead of just looking at them through a cage.
Go within a vulture enclosure and watch her finger paint (yeah, you read that right) or attend the flight show and watch owls and hawks soar through the air right above your head.
However, not all of us feel entirely comfortable around birds. If you’ve got a bit of a phobia (as I do), that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on this experience.
The key is starting small and working your way up to the more intense activities.
I’d recommend beginning your visit by walking around the facility and just looking at the birds. They’re all within enclosures, so you can give yourself a chance to appreciate their beauty and warm up to them.
There are vultures:
Kites, Harriers, and Osprey:
and Corvids (crows, magpies, ravens, etc.):
Once you get acclimated, participate in a Raptor Encounter, which don’t involve the birds flying or anything and are very calm ways to interact with a particular bird outside their enclosure.
There are three types of encounters: the Eagle Encounter, a behind the scenes tour of the Flight Show, and the Vulture Venture.
Raptor Encounters are offered at scheduled times on the weekends, but visitors can request ahead of time to experience an encounter on a weekday.
I tried out the Vulture Venture for myself, which involves walking alongside vultures and their trainers down a forest trail.
At first, I was pretty nervous because I thought of vultures as vicious creatures that would attack if they thought I could be food. However, vultures are scavengers and eat carcasses rather than killing their own prey. They aren’t aggressive like some other predatory raptors might be, and are actually pretty misunderstood creatures. There’s really no reason to be afraid of them!
In fact, walking along the trail with us, they were actually very friendly and goofy. At some points, they would just walk around in circles until one of the trainers fed them. They were even hungrier for attention than they were for their treats.
Save the Flight Show for last, because a bunch of owls, vultures, hawks and falcons flying around above your head can be pretty terrifying if you don’t work yourself up to that point.
But, if you’re ready for it, you’ll have an amazing experience watching these birds soar through the air. Flight Shows are on the weekends—on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and on Sunday at 11 a.m.
The times are limited due to the excessive Carolina heat that we all know and love (hate). For the safety of the birds, the center limits the show times to the late morning or early afternoon when the heat index hasn’t peaked, and shows may be cancelled some days if the heat index is too high.
Interested in how sick or injured birds are cared for at the Raptor Center? The Jim Arthur Raptor Medical Center does behind the scenes tours on the first full weekend of each month, which are just an extra $5 in addition to your admission ticket.
There are also multiple “For a Day” experiences if you’re looking for more behind the scenes action. Be a “Veterinarian for a Day” and get an inside look into how the birds are healed and cared for, or be a “Keeper for a Day” and see if you have what it takes to feed, train and care for the center’s resident birds.
Whatever type of experience you’re looking for, the Carolina Raptor Center has got something to offer you, even if you’re uneasy about birds.
Regular entry tickets for the Carolina Raptor Center are $12 for adults, $10 for teachers/military/seniors, $8 for students four years old and over, and free for Raptor Center members and children under 3 years old.