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December 06, 2016
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Where birds of prey stay

Julia, a golden eagle, has a seven-foot wingspan and a sweet kiss for her caretaker, DVRC Executive Director Bill Streeter.
TRR photos by Amanda Reed

The center is unique as a non-profit organization in that it rarely fundraises aggressively or toots its own horn. The bulk of financial support comes from its educational programs and the 450 plus families and individuals who compose the center’s membership, which Bill says is like family. The center itself is a family affair. Bill’s wife Stephanie is one of the center’s other two staff members, and they live together on one of their two sites, currently caring for 18 raptors housed in specially designed buildings and flight enclosures on their spacious property. Their house is split into two levels—the upper serving as their home and the lower serving as the center’s office and a small animal clinic. Staff member Jan Lucciola lives on the grounds of the second site, which is in Pike County Park and holds another 20 or more birds.

Stephanie was the first of the couple to become a master falconer, the second registered female falconer in Massachusetts at the time. This ultimately led to the life she and Bill now lead, including the center’s creation. A falconer is someone who is licensed by the state to train, fly and hunt with birds of prey. “Hunting with birds isn’t like hunting with guns,” says Bill. “You don’t just put your bird down at the end of the season like you do a gun. You are responsible for their well-being, so you must have a knowledge of raptors to care for them throughout the year.” This is critically important not just for the bird, but for the falconer as well, as birds of prey can do substantial damage to humans as well as other animals, if not handled properly. And, even when handled properly, there’s still a risk.

Bill has multiples injuries to prove this point. His scariest moment was with another golden eagle that got spooked and pinned Bill’s tongue to his lower jaw with a front talon through his mouth, while resting her back talon on his chin. With his colleague 200 feet away, and unable to yell, he had to think fast to save his life. He slowly inserted his finger in between the eagle’s back talon and his chin and successfully unhooked it causing her to release the other talon from his mouth. “She seemed just as scared as I was,” he said about the incident. Golden eagles are considered the most powerful bird in the United States and their talons can grow up to three inches.