Birds of prey soar at Awendaw rehab center
I don't get star-struck very easily. During the last 40-plus years, I've interviewed presidential candidates such as George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton along with famous athletes such as Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer.
There were high profile coaches, including Lou Holtz, as well as entertainment celebrities the likes of Jennifer Anniston and Tom Berenger.
In those moments, you aim for professionalism and hopefully, a question or two they haven't already heard a million other times. Do they have egos? Of course, virtually every interview they do requires the constant use of the personal pronoun "I" or "me."
This brings me to the only time I've ever felt humbled in the presence of a celebrity. Two years ago, on a Friday morning at Marion Square, the Birds of Prey Center was putting on an exhibition for the first day of the Southeastern Wildlife Expo.
While talking to a handler who was caring for an eagle, I felt so unworthy to be in this magnificent bird's presence.
There was a certain regal attitude that exuded such confidence, yet this eagle seemed to also know that he owed his very existence to the people at the Birds of Prey Center in Awendaw.
The purpose of the center is to provide medical care to injured birds of prey and shorebirds. Jim Elliott is the executive director and founder. The center treats more than 500 birds a year and most are released back to their natural habitat.
The mission of the center has spread its wings since opening in 1991. School children and adults are welcome to experience educational programs.
Its medical clinic is the first-line responder for any oiled birds found on the South Atlantic coast.
On any given week, the center will be home to hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures, kites and owls. Yes, even the ugly vulture is welcome there. Though not as handsome or effortless in flight, a vulture still performs a valuable service.
Elliott's passion for his job started as a young boy growing up on James Island. His father always encouraged him to play outside. Elliott remembers creating his own bird list at the age of 7.
Much of his adult life was spent in commercial real estate, but he never quit watching the birds. When he realized there was no facility to treat these creatures' injuries, his life's purpose reached its ultimate wing span.
Later this morning, these birds will once again show their prowess during an entertaining, yet educational display at Marion Square.
From various perches, they'll swoop down to retrieve chunks of meat from their handlers.
The kites and falcons will show off their speed. The hawks are rightfully proud of their eyesight and hunting skills.
The eagle, well, he really doesn't have to do anything, does he? He's an eagle for goodness sakes. He's a national symbol of freedom, his picture's on our money.
If you do see one in flight, it's a moment you won't forget. If you see one even closer, you, too, may be humbled and even more thankful that there are folks who live in our community that nurse these creatures back to health and return them to nature for all of us to appreciate.
There's nothing shallow or fake about these birds of prey. They're real celebrities and worthy of our attention.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.