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How to spend a summer’s day in Western New York: visit Hawk Creek


June 18, 2022: Handler Melissa Gallagher goes nose to beak with Caspian, a Saker falcon, at Hawk Creek Wildlife Center. © photo by Steven D. Desmond


Hawk Creek Wildlife Center, nestled over several acres at 1963 Mill Road in West Falls, is a local hidden gem. Begun in 1987, it is one of the largest raptor facilities on the East Coast, housing more than 90 permanent residents, including 55 birds and small animals like lynx, serval, bobcat, skunk, armadillo, and porcupine.

Loretta Jones, Hawk Creek’s founder and CEO, wanted to teach her own children about nature. After she began rehabilitating injured birds, people brought her different animals — some of whom were unable to be released into the wild. Jones began using animals to educate students and adults. From there, her passion snowballed into a facility that opened to the public.

Now there are several full-time employees and numerous volunteers who share their knowledge about animals and birds.

“We try to get kids to have that connection and respect for nature,” said Tanya Lowe, Curator and Education Director, who has worked at Hawk Creek for 18 years. “Technology rules our lives. Fewer kids are outside with unstructured play. The more that people disconnect from nature, the less it will be part of our future. How can we be better citizens of the planet?”

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

Employees’ roles vary: taking care of new animals; finding homes for animals who can’t be released back into the wild; overseeing birds who can become “ambassadors” that interact with the public.

“We’ve looked at education programs as a way to fit the needs of our community,” Lowe said. “Schools are always searching for character development programs, and ways to make it fun. If there’s a better example of character development than stopping to take care of animals, I don’t know what it is. It’s small, but that kind of behavior is one of the things that can change the world.”

Bonnie Hogan, a retired teacher who has worked in public schools and colleges, has volunteered at Hawk Creek for 17 years. After undergoing intensive training, Hogan handles owls and small birds.

“You learn that if a bird is stressed, you don’t put it in an uncomfortable situation. You learn about their behaviors and how to communicate with the public about conservation. People tend to think about preserving the environment in an abstract way, but when you see it up close, it becomes personal.”

Hogan has released several birds back into the wild, an experience that she finds “overwhelming.”

She has taken birds and animals to visit senior citizen residences, libraries, and schools.

“I had a snake at one event,” she recalled. “People were either fascinated or just about gluing their bodies to the opposite wall. I’ve found that screech owls seem to reduce huge, tattooed men to cooing, ‘Oh, how cute!’”

Formerly located down the road, Hawk Creek moved to its current address in 2015. They are similar to a zoo, Lowe explained, in that they stress conservation. But there are differences as well.

“We’re a little more grassroots,” she said. “When people come here, one of the biggest things is they can talk to staff and volunteers. We share the animals with people. It’s more than just a cat laying in an enclosure. Visitors are surprised that all of the animals greet us. You can really see their personalities.”

Hours are by appointment only. There is a fee to visit. For more information, visit their website at www.hawkcreek.org.


© 2022 by Jeff Schober


A hawk in flight. © photo by Steven D. Desmond


Visitors wander through "Raptor Park." © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Jessica Jones displays two macaws: a blue and white and hyacinth. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Options abound at Hawk Creek. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Adults and kids are fascinated by the "big cat" presentation during a weekend at Hawk Creek. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Tanya Lowe, left, displays a lynx to a crowd. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

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