For Matt Jenkins, his need of volunteer hours has transformed into a lifelong hobby.
It started when Matt was in seventh grade when he saw staff members training owls and hawks at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science.
“I just thought that I wanted to do that because it was really cool,” said Jenkins, junior.
Most of the birds at the center are victims of dog bites and cars hitting them. Some may be released based on their physical state, while others may become permanent residents at the center.
The age limit for training these fragile birds is 18, but because Jenkins is dedicated to working with the raptors, they’ve waived that limit. However, he is monitored closely by an experienced staff member when he holds the birds.
Jenkins said, “The only reason that I am allowed to do this is because I’ve been working at the center for 6 years now, and they decided to let me train raptors because they know me so well.”
Training these birds is similar to riding a bike. Jenkins began by holding a dove, which could be compared to training wheels. As Jenkins progresses, so does the size of the birds. From the dove he moved on to a small Screech owl, and now he is able to hold large birds like Barred owls.
Because of his age, Jenkins has yet to hold a falcon, but he enjoys holding owls. “The best part is using [the owls] on programs in the public because you get to hold them, tell people about them.”
His takes his hobby very seriously due to the many possible risks of training wild animals. Jenkins wears a glove to protect his arms from the birds’ sharp talons. To prevent the birds from flying away, they are equipped with a small leash on their foot.
Jenkins expects to continue his raptor training as a lifelong hobby; however, he does not think he will pursue a career in it.