On the southeast shore of Lake Sybelia lies a quaint 1920s veranda bungalow. The old-fashioned house would appear to harbor many secrets, and indeed it does! This building is the main house for the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Florida, an organization referred to by Center Director Katie Warner as “Maitland’s best-kept secret.” Despite its relative obscurity, this non-profit urban environmental center does the vital work of rescuing, treating, rehabilitating, and then releasing Florida’s birds of prey, or raptors. This house is also where the center conducts many of its education programs and is the location of its offices.
Unbeknownst to many, Maitland has a long history with Audubon. Less than two miles away from the current center, the first Audubon meeting in Florida was held on March 2, 1900. This meeting featured prominent figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York. In 1979, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey opened at this location. Since then, they have been serving Florida’s birds as well as the Maitland community.
The Center has since then seen 22,500 injured or orphaned birds come into their care. The animals they have cared for include owls, eagles, falcons, hawks, and kites. They have released 8,300 raptors into the wild. This number includes 667 bald eagles, a species that Audubon specializes in caring for.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the Center’s work, explains Warner, is “the release of raptors back into the wild.”
Audubon’s efforts and team contributed to the successful conservation of the bald eagle in Florida, a species that was once classified as endangered. Using state-of-the-art technology and a dedicated team of rehabilitation specialists, Audubon treats between 60-70 Bald Eagles each year. Despite bald eagles no longer being on the endangered species list, Audubon is still looking out for the safety and wellbeing of these birds, monitoring the population closely through Audubon’s EagleWatch program.
Audubon’s conservation efforts do not stop at rehabilitating raptors but extend to advocating for protections in land, water, and wildlife through educating the wider community about conservation and the importance of raptors in Florida. Visitors are able to visit the Center to view non-releasable birds of prey. Here, staff educate the community on how to help the birds and the challenges they face. The Center also has indoor interactive exhibits, although these are currently closed due to the pandemic.
“Audubon’s education program hosts on-site tours and activities at our location,” says Warner, “as well as [presentations] in schools and other locations in Central Florida.” Like many other non-profit organizations, COVID has strained the finances and resources of Audubon. Warner hopes that as the pandemic subsides, the Audubon can host more in-person events and resume in-school presentations.
Other educational opportunities the organization provides include “Raptor Camp”, a summer camp for rising first through sixth grade. Although the camp was cancelled this year due to COVID, the Center still hosts a variety of events digitally. The site also offers tours for Scouts, Homeschool groups, and group tours with more than 10 people. Internships and volunteer opportunities are also available.
This desire to connect with the community of Maitland is helped by the Chamber. The Center’s primary reason for joining is to show support for the people, communities, and businesses of Maitland. The Chamber has allowed the Center to network and share resources with the rest of Maitland.
The Audubon Center plans to expand this network of support in order to gain funds as well as build programs to educate. The Center is largely dependent on generous donors, which range from corporations, foundations, as well as communities and individuals. Anyone, including you, can help the center better achieve its goals.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Florida is open from Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. If you are interested in the Center and the work they do, you can visit their website at https://cbop.audubon.org, or call at 407-644-0190.