ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. – Birds of prey play a vital role in keeping rodents and other pests away from our homes. One nonprofit in Orange County has been helping injured raptors and other birds get back to health and back to the wild to keep the ecosystem in balance. 

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One of the birds that’s been helped by the nonprofit is named Hank. The red-tailed hawk is doing great now, but life didn’t start out that way. 

“He fell from the nest when he was a fledgling. He broke his leg. And so one foot is smaller than the other,” said Harmonie Wooley, a volunteer with the Orange County Bird of Prey Center. 

Since Hank was a baby bird, volunteers at the center helped care for him. But Wooley says that caused him to imprint on humans. 

“So unfortunately, that means he’s going to identify with humans instead of his own kind, a red-tailed hawk,” said Wooley.

And when that happens Wooley says there are only three options for the bird since it would likely not survive in the wild.

“Either to be an education bird, a display bird, or to be euthanized,” Wooley said.

Hank became an education bird.

He helps teach the public about birds of prey and their importance in keeping the ecosystem in check.

“Without birds of prey you’re gonna see a lot more rabbits, a lot more rats, a lot more smaller birds,” Wooley said.

While Wooley says she loves working with the birds, it’s something she never thought she’d be doing.  She used to be a graphic artist. She left her career when she became a mom.

“If I was gonna go back to work and be away from my children, it was going to be for a purpose, for a good reason,” she said.

She says she found that purpose and reason when she experienced releasing a rehabbed bird into the wild with one of her sons. She was hooked and started volunteering for the nonprofit five years ago.  

Since the 1980’s, on average the organization has cared for about 150 birds every year. As of 2017, the organization says it has helped about 3,500 birds.

About two-thirds have been healthy enough to be released back into nature. Several dozen were released on October 12 of this year.

Donors sponsored birds and helped release them into the wild at the center’s soon-to-be new home in Trabuco Canyon. The center is currently fundraising to be able to permanently move to the new location.

Wooley says continuing their work to help returned injured birds to the wild can help prevent pesky problems in people's yards.