Vineyards Support Wildlife In Partnership With Cascades Raptor Center In South Willamette Valley

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Life isn’t easy for creatures at the top of the food pyramid. Louise Shimmel, executive director of Cascades Raptor Center — a nature center and wildlife hospital in Eugene, Oregon — understands this reality well.

She says that raptors sometimes find their way into the hospital due to starvation, but the majority of cases are related to human-inflicted conditions. Vehicle collisions are the primary cause, but window strikes, entanglement (soccer nets and garden nets are most common), electrocution, lead and rodent positioning, and gunshot wounds are also issues.

Cascades Raptor Center is there when birds need them, for rescue, rehabilitation, and release. The center also runs a robust public education program to increase stewardship and build appreciation for the raptor population.

South Willamette Valley Wineries Provide Habitat for Raptors

The center has fostered key partnerships with the wine industry in the South Willamette Valley, a symbiotic connection that benefits vineyard owners by releasing raptors on the property, which in turn provide natural pest control. Vineyards, particularly organic ones, are a relatively safe environment for the center’s rehabilitated birds.

“There’s good habitat there and lots of room, and the wineries are interested in this kind of integrated pest management,” says Shimmel. “Wineries have put up nest boxes into which we can release the many orphaned barn owls we get (we had over 80 in 2021), as well as kestrel and screech owl boxes.” Shimmel says that some winery partners will host a public bird release for species such as red tailed hawks and harriers, which don’t need a nest box. Others put up perches for birds, enabling them a vantage point to hunt among the acres of vine rows.

“These partnerships have grown into larger relationships with some wineries and vineyards, and we feel this has been beneficial to both sides,” says Shimmel. “We hope to also ignite more passion, so wineries be willing to make their properties a habitat for wildlife.”

Sweet Cheeks Winery & Vineyard, a family-run establishment in Eugene, is one of Cascades Raptor Center’s most-involved properties, serving as a location for raptors to be released and a fundraising partner.

Jessica Thomas, the general manager at Sweet Cheeks, notes that it’s common to see raptors around or above the vineyards in the South Willamette Valley, a rural setting that provides safety and many acres of habitat. “The vineyards in our area offer the security of tall and established trees, friendly barns, and boxes surrounding the vineyards for the birds to build their homes,” she says.

Thomas says that the Cascades Raptor Center is “brilliant at providing an environment to educate guests and build a better understanding of the raptors.” Owl siblings were placed in boxes near Sweet Cheeks Oak Hill Pinot Gris vineyard block, and Thomas confirms that the sibling birds are still there to “keep a watchful eye at night over that part of the vineyard!”

Shimmel says that wineries do report back to the center that they spot the birds using the nest boxes. King Estate Winery in rural Eugene has been a long-standing partner and home to many bird releases. This is the largest certified Biodynamic vineyard in North America, and a highly suitable location for the winery’s eight raptor boxes.

Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner has hosted a kestrel nest in one of its six raptor boxes for several years. They call them “bird condos” which can be seen in several estate vineyards, key to a mix of stewardship efforts.

“Raising these orphaned raptors and releasing them back into the wild is a success story each time for us,” says Shimmel. “We are giving these babies the best possible chance to be wild like their parents before.”

How to Help Raptors

The center provides these tips for citizens that discover a wildlife emergency. Meet the center’s resident birds, schedule a virtual visit, or adopt a raptor from the center’s website. Those in Eugene can plan a visit to the center here.

Shimmel says that wine consumers can also benefit birds with their purchasing choices. “Buying organically produced wines is a great start, or check into the pest control practices in general of your favorite winery,” she says. “Some use falconers to do bird abatement at harvest season, for example.”

Modifications in one’s home lifestyle are also possible, such as gardening for pollinators and native birds, avoiding rodenticides, treating windows to prevent strikes, and simply respecting and enjoying wildlife as a neighbor. “And if you feed backyard birds, be tolerant of native bird-hunting predators.”

Everyone is invited to join Talons at Home, a live virtual event on October 16, 2021 which will highlight the work of Cascades Raptor Center’s staff, their commitment to birds of prey, and lots of birds! There is no charge. Access the event at 7:00 PM Pacific time at to participate in a silent auction, raffles, and talks with center staff.

“We encourage everyone to visit us, or centers close to them,” says Shimmel. “And to keep their eyes out for these wonderful birds around them.”

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