MILFORD, Ohio (AP) -- About three miles away from a busy retail complex in western Clermont County, a rehabilitation center for birds sits on a quiet road.
The creatures at Raptor Inc. are not ordinary birds. They're birds of prey, which hunt small mammals such as mice and squirrels.
"They are so gorgeous. There's nothing like seeing one flying in the wild," said Cindy Alverson, Raptor's executive director. "I handle these birds daily but the true joy is just seeing them out in the wild, hearing them call (and) seeing them free."
The nonprofit group is one of 11 rehabilitators in Ohio -- the only one in Southwest Ohio -- that is licensed to accept federal and/or state endangered avian species, said Carolyn Caldwell, a program administrator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.
Raptor, the Regional Association for the Protection and Treatment Of Raptors, was founded in 1979 and depends on 60 volunteers. Alverson is the group's only paid staff member. Not only does Raptor take care of injured raptors and release them back into the wild, it offers education programs at schools and libraries.
Raptor last year took in 228 birds of prey, a 23 percent increase from 2011, when 186 were taken in. Birds admitted last year include great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and screech owls. Half were released back into the wild. The other half died, were euthanized because of their condition or were transferred to other facilities.
Alverson attributed the hike to drought this past summer, which led to underweight birds. Drought means less corn is available for mice. Mice are one of the animals that birds of prey rely on.
Alverson said some injured birds can still fly but can't catch their food and kill it with their talons.
If someone comes across an injured bird of prey, Alverson recommends covering it with a box, then contact Raptor.
"These birds are wild. They can do great damage with their feet (and) with their talons," said Milford veterinarian Bob Dahlhausen, a Raptor volunteer. "Their nails are very, very sharp and they can really injure a person."
Dahlhausen, who has worked with birds and exotic animals his entire career, said Raptor has a high survival rate of birds that can be rehabilitated. He said the problem is a lot of the birds have injuries where they can't be released into the wild. Some are placed into educational programs.
Raptor has nine such educational birds in captivity at its Union Township facility. One of the educational birds is a female partial albino red-tailed hawk named Isis, which was admitted in 2004 after suffering a gunshot wound to its right wing.
The oldest bird at Raptor is a female turkey vulture named Earl, who has been under the organization's care since 1984. Humans raised the bird and it could not survive in the wild on its own.
Raptor moved into is home, next to the Cincinnati Nature Center, in March. Prior to that, its location was an old house on Covered Bridge Road near Winton Woods Park. Raptor received an anonymous donation to pay off a loan for the new facility's land (8 acres) in Clermont County. The same donor made a separate contribution to renovate a barn, where Raptor does rehabilitation work.
Raptor's facilities include a covered wooden bird cage (16 by 16 feet), where it can assess a bird's flying ability.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com