Imagine holding a barn owl in your hand or having a bald eagle with a six-foot wingspan soar over your head.
Dale and John Stokes of Save Our American Raptors, or S.O.A.R, want people across the country to have that opportunity. In 2004 they took over the nonprofit originally founded in Florida in 1983 by Doris Mager. Now the couple cares for 15 birds of prey in Trenton, Ga.
"Some have wing injuries, eye injuries, but most of our birds are completely fine physically, just a little mentally confused," says Dale Stokes of the raptors that can't be returned to the wild. "Those are our human-imprinted birds, raised by people."
The birds become friends and family, she says. Her favorite is Cayce, a black vulture that as a youngster was found on the ground in North Carolina. "She's quite funny," Dale describes. "She's more like a dog than she is a bird."
The Trenton couple is focused primarily on education. They have several programs they offer to area public schools and state parks and for $35 you can make an appointment and spend about two hours learning about Billy the American kestrel and holding Theo the barn owl.
The husband and wife team has a combined 52 years of experience with birds, traveling as far west as New Mexico and as far north as Minnesota to raise awareness about wildlife.
A fun activity for old and young, she says, is to buy a bird book such as a Peterson Field Guide for raptors or hawks, and go outside and try to identify the birds you see. She also recommends visiting the Cornell lab of ornithology - www.birds.cornell.edu. And during April you can see the Birds of Prey show at Rock City.
Around the area, raptors like red-tailed hawks and vultures can be seen any time of the year, Dale Stokes says. Her favorite spot to see the birds is at the top of Lookout Mountain. Bald eagles are usually spotted around bodies of water.
"In our virtual world a lot of people, especially children, are really tuned into computers and video games but don't tend to go outside," says Dale Stokes. "The real world is far more interesting."