Recovering birds of prey get new barn in Youngwood

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Injured hawks, falcons and other birds of prey at a Westmoreland County rehabilitation facility can now exercise and strengthen their wings in state-of-the-art splendor.

Wildlife Works Inc., a volunteer-based nonprofit in Youngwood, has added a flyway raptor barn to its rehab tools for birds of prey, known as raptors.

The new raptor barn replaced the facility’s aged linear flight pen. An open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project, funded by a $140,000 capital campaign, was held last week.

“Building this structure is a huge step forward for our facility. It enables us to provide increased quality care for large numbers of raptors and makes us the largest resource for raptor care in southwestern Pennsylvania," executive director Beth Shoaf said. "It also readies our facility to accept bald eagles.” 

The purpose of a flyway structure is to give recovering birds an opportunity for improved flight conditioning at the end of convalescence. Flight conditioning, the final step before release, helps to ensure that the raptors can successfully hunt and survive in the wild again, Mrs. Shoaf said. Depending on a facility’s budget, space and needs, flyway structures can range in size from flight pens and barns to elaborate compounds.

Flyway structures allow either “linear” or “continuous” flight opportunities. In linear flight structures, birds fly from one end to the other, stop and perch, then fly back to the other end, stop and perch, over and over, she said. Continuous flight structures have much wider, rounded and larger interiors, allowing birds to fly multiple laps without stopping. Wildlife Works' new barn allows for continuous flight.

While linear flight structures are the norm across the rehab community, most raptors don’t fly in a stop-and-go manner, said Mrs. Shoaf, who is also the facility’s senior licensed rehabilitator.

“A continuous flyway is far superior. It allows a bird to build up so much more strength and aerobic stamina because it can fly an unlimited number of feet, around and around. The bird gets to use the different muscles that enable it to bank and turn in the air, which is what they do in real life,” she said.

With completion of the continuous flyway raptor barn, Wildlife Works hopes to become the region’s “go-to place” for rehabilitating raptors, and most specifically, bald eagles, Mrs. Shoaf said.

When Wildlife Works admitted a bald eagle in 2009,workers quickly realized that their facility was ill-equipped to house a bird of that size, she said. Fortunately, the eagle had only minor injuries, so its stay was brief.

“Bald eagles are making a huge comeback across the nation after years of being on the endangered species list. They’re back in southwestern Pennsylvania in increasing numbers, and our facility is now beyond adequate to rehabilitate them,” Mrs. Shoaf said.

A pair of red-tailed hawks, each requiring lengthy recoveries, became the first occupants of the raptor barn last week. The staff expects to release them next month.

Initially, Wildlife Works planned to build an octagon-shaped building similar to one built by a Maine facility, featured in a professional journal. But staff members changed their minds after learning of the difficulties and added expense experienced by Three Rivers Avian Center in Brooks, W.Va., which was building a structure based on the Maine facility’s design.

Retired building designer Tony Pieczynski of Baldwin Borough solved the problem by modifying Wildlife Works' original building plans. He converted the octagon-shaped barn into a square barn with an octagonal interior, by adjusting the shape and depth of the corners, Mrs. Shoaf said.

“We were blown away. It saved so much money,” she said.

The square, aluminum pole building includes: four walls, each 40 feet wide and 16 feet high; vinyl-coated wire-screened windows to allow open air flow; a peaked ceiling with skylights; four 8-foot-tall holding pens for easy transitioning of birds that are not quite ready for the flyway; a workshop and mini-triage area in the center; and a cistern to capture and reuse rainwater, Mrs. Shoaf said. Landscaping is not yet finished.

The capital campaign brought in $40,000 from the general public and an $80,000 grant and a $20,000 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Raphael Family Fund, she said.

At last week’s open house, Wildlife Works dedicated the new building, with a bronze plaque, to the late Margaret Raphael, who donated the grant money while she was alive, Mrs. Shoaf said. A philanthropist and animal lover who lived in Hunker, Ms. Raphael died in 2011 at age 63.

Wildlife Works rehabilitates injured, ill and orphaned mammals, songbirds and birds of prey that have been victims of human interference, environmental contamination or habitat destruction. It is funded entirely by donations and serves Westmoreland and other counties.

The facility sits on rural property owned by Mrs. Shoaf and her husband. Since incorporating in 1993, it has had more than several hundred patient admissions; its release rate is above 60 percent. Currently, the facility has 33 patients: recovering adult owls, hawks, water fowl, turtles, songbirds and several species of small mammals.

“Birds of prey are so majestic. They seem to really touch something special in the hearts and minds of the public. It’s a humbling experience to be around them because every one is as much an individual as you or I. They’re impassioned with being alive,” Mrs. Shoaf said.

For more information: Wildlife Works, P.O. Box 113, Youngwood, PA 15697; 724-925-6862;; or

Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer:

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