Daytrippin'--Carolinas Raptor Center
My daughter Caroline and I visited the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville this spring. Not only did we get an up close view of some of nature’s most impressive birds, but it was also a learning experience for both of us.
For example, we learned how littering can put our beautiful birds of prey — raptors — at risk. Owls, hawks and other raptors spend their time in flight searching for small animals for food. They mistakenly think our trash is edible, and as they swoop down to attack, they can be hit by an oncoming car.
A Place for Rehabilitation
About 700 orphaned or injured birds are brought to the Carolina Raptor Center each year — 37 percent of the injured birds have been hit by a car. Other reasons birds are brought to the raptor center include being shot, getting trapped in barbed wire and being orphaned. At the center, they are treated, rehabilitated and released when they are able.
The birds that aren’t able to be released back into the wild get a permanent residence at the raptor center, and these are the birds you see as you walk through the wooded trails.
Starting as you walk out of the gift shop and education center you immediately encounter the first bird, a sweet-looking American kestrel. I could hardly pull Caroline away from that first bird — she didn’t realize there would be many more along the trail!
The trails themselves take you on a beautiful walk through the woods of the Piedmont, with well-marked signs pointing you to each bird’s habitat. They are housed separately by species, but all seem as interested in you as you are in them. The nice thing about the trail is it makes one large loop, but also has some shortcut paths, so you can make this walk as short or as long as you like. If you plan on walking the entire trail, allow about an hour.
Each habitat is accompanied by an informative sign, so walking along by yourselves you are still able to learn plenty about the birds. If you want a little more information, tapes of guided tours are available for $1, and on the third weekend of every month the center hosts Trail Trivia Talks, where you follow a guide down the trail to hear facts and stories about the center, its residents and our environment.
Whether or not you walk the entire trail, make sure you stop at the eagle’s habitat. I had no idea these birds were as big as they are, and when you see them up close, you can understand how the bald eagle became the symbol of our country. Its presence alone is magnificent.
More to See and Do
The Carolina Raptor Center is housed within the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, a 1,290 acre area on Mountain Island Lake. If you want to add more to your trip after your visit to the raptor center, there’s plenty of other things to do. Take your kids through the Historic Latta Plantation, a living history farm and museum where you get a chance to experience what life was like in rural North Carolina in the early to mid-19th century. In addition to the plantation home of James Latta, the property also includes outbuildings, barns and livestock.
At the entrance to the preserve is the Latta Equestrian Center. Kids ages 8 and up can take a guided horseback ride through the wooded trails, and younger kids can ride a pony in the corral. Of course the preserve also includes plenty of opportunities for hiking, canoeing and picnicking.
Having recently visited the N.C. zoo, I wondered if Caroline would as enthralled with exhibits that consisted of only birds. But the Carolina Raptor Center was as exciting for her as the zoo. There’s just something about an owl staring straight at you with his big round eyes that is captivating — no matter how old or young you are.
Carolina Raptor Center
6000 Sample Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $6, students $4, children under 5 free.
Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
5226 Sample Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
Nature Center: (704) 875-1391
Equestrian Center: (704) 875-0808
Historic Latta Plantation: (704) 875-2312
Plantation Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Students $4, ages 6 and under free.