Carolina Raptor Center is located just north of Charlotte in Huntersville, NC. The center is home to falcons, hawks, owls, eagles and vultures from all over the world. Visitors can view these magnificent raptors up close, and learn about their individual stories and unique characteristics that help them survive in the wild. The center also offers educational programming for groups. KAG contributor, Maria Bassett, shares a visit she and her children took to the Carolina Raptor Center.
What is a Raptor?
Raptors. We see them in the sky far above us, soaring and circling, their sharp eyes keenly searching out their next meal. They don’t sing, or entertain us with their bright colors at our feeders. They don’t visit our backyard feeders at all (except maybe to snack on the songbirds themselves). In fact, we rarely get the chance to see anything but their silhouettes overhead. And yet they catch our attention. What makes these birds so unique? If you want to know, you will find the drive to Carolina Raptor Center well worth it!
Raptors are meat eating birds that catch their prey with their talons (unlike other birds who may eat meat that catch their prey with their beaks- think birds and worms, or penguins and fish). They are equipped with many special features that give them the ability to accomplish this task. From sharp talons, to third eyelids and tiny bones that act as sun visors, you’ll be amazed at all you’ll learn in just a few hours at the center.
How About a Field Trip?
Educational groups who plan a visit to the center can schedule a presentation from a very knowledgeable staff member. Our group was able to view and learn about three different raptors. We learned about each bird’s special features, how they train the raptors, where the birds come from, what they eat and more, all while getting an extremely close view of these magnificent creatures.
This presentation was easily the best part of our visit. The children (and adults) in attendance were so excited to see each bird as our guide brought them out. The guide kept everyone interested and engaged. Being a homeschool family that likes to school as much as we can through experiences, I have to say, this was one of the best educational presentations we’ve ever had the pleasure to view.
Fieldtrip groups also have the added benefit of a significant per person discount. The center has pre-planned programming, but will also customize for your group. Homeschoolers, you do not have to be part of an organized group to schedule these field trip programs! Gather some adventure-loving homeschool families with children of similar ages and make your own group!
The trail at CRC is open to all paying guests. The trail area is where you will view the center’s various raptors in their habitats. It’s a mostly shaded, gravel path and easily walkable. We had a few strollers in our group who had no problem with the path. Along the trail you’ll see raptors divided by their types; a grouping of owls, a loop of falcons, a section of vultures, the eagle aviary, and lineup of hawks. This allows you to easily compare them within their raptor families.
The trail also contains an exhibit showing the center’s raptors who regularly help out in the educational presentations, as well as an exhibit showing some of the work the raptor hospital onsite does regularly. The hospital is not regularly open to the public; however, they offer a behind-the-scenes tour and the exhibit “A Day in the Life of a Raptor Hospital.”
Spending the Day at Carolina Raptor Center
If you plan to spend a large portion of your day at CRC, you should know that there is no onsite food vendor. The gift shop sells snacks, ice cream bars, and popsicles. If you plan to have lunch, you’ll need to bring it with you. (There isn’t much in the way of fast food nearby, either.)
The center has several places to picnic, one is alongside a nature play area. The play area contains teeter totters made out of sanded logs, a sand pit, sliced log blocks, a wooden play house, and a small area where children can view pictures of raptor nests and try to recreate them with nearby materials.
Getting to CRC
Carolina Raptor Center is located about 20 minutes north of Charlotte. As you approach the center, follow signs for the nature preserve. As you pass the preserve, you’ll soon approach the raptor center on your left. The first entrance is for the raptor hospital, the second entrance is the clearly marked main entrance to Carolina Raptor Center. Google Maps brought us right to the visitor center parking lot with no problem.
Carolina Raptor Center, 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville, NC 28078
Admission and Hours
Hours are 10 am to 4 pm daily. They close from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm, meaning the gift shop, ticketing and restrooms are closed from 12:30 to 1:30 pm, but guests already on the Raptor Trail do not have to leave.
Admission: $12 adults, $10 seniors, teachers, military, $8 Students ages 4 and up, Free for children ages 3 and under.
Bring the Learning Home
Here are some great books you can find on Amazon or at the library about raptors:
- Birds of Prey (Peterson Field Guide)- J 598.9L
- Discovering Birds of Prey by M.J. Thomas- J 598.9 T
- Animal Lives: The Barn Owl- J 598.97
- Eyewitness Book: Eagle and Birds of Prey- J 598.9
Your family might also enjoy reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, as well as the sequels. The main character in these stories trains a peregrine falcon to help him hunt as he tries to live on his own, off of the land.
Consider having students bring a sketchbook and sketch a few of the raptors they see. Clearly label the sketches. When you get home, have students look up information about the raptors they drew. Consider a writing assignment, creative poster, flyer, brochure, or some other type of assignment that incorporates the sketches. Similarly, families could take photographs of the birds and complete a family project, like a bulletin board or scrapbook, about what they learned.
Enjoy your visit to CRC? Looking for a little more? Consider visiting Caesar’s Head State Park this fall to observe the migration of thousands of raptors as they pass above the cliff on their way to their winter homes. Check out the Kidding Around Greenville story on Hawk Watch. You are likely to only see them from the sky, but they are still quite impressive.