“The biggest thing that pulls me in is giving back to the state in a different way than would be expected. With the ACCA, you are helping injured wildlife that wouldn’t otherwise have a place to go to. I love birds and I love giving back to this area.”
Taylor Sparks begins the final checkup on an Eastern Screech Owl that has been recovering from an injury at the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia (ACCA) near Morgantown, W.Va. Since graduating from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design with her degree in animal and nutritional sciences, Sparks has gone on to study veterinary medicine with the hopes of one day working with exotic animals.
Bird in hand, she checks its wings to ensure the owl has all of the necessary feathers to fly. She then looks for grip strength in the feet, full function of the beak and promising eyesight before moving to a short indoor flight test. This little guy is ready for takeoff.
“To me, a graduate of West Virginia University is someone who feels the tremendous amount of gratitude toward the University and toward the state. We want to come back and serve West Virginia. I’m just so thankful that I have the opportunity to come back and do something that I love and that really has a purpose.”
With two other birds, both American Kestrels, Sparks takes a short ride to a local farm with Jesse Fallon, DVM, one of the owners of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital and a member of the ACCA board of Directors. Fallon, a 2004 graduate of WVU, leads the ACCA team made up entirely of volunteers and students when he isn’t performing his duties as a veterinarian at the hospital. “The type of people we’re looking for are those who share our values and want to move our mission forward,” says Fallon. “We just want to help native birds in our region.”
After finding the perfect place between several trees at the farm, Sparks reaches into a cardboard box with plenty of holes poked in the sides for airflow. Out comes a small American Kestrel, ready to return to the skies of West Virginia. A quick “3-2-1”, and the Kestrel is in the air and out of sight, healthy after a short stay at the ACCA.
“I love that WVU gave me the opportunity to pursue something that I love,” says Sparks. “I can do this every single day and I don’t feel like this is a job. Wherever I go across the country, I meet other WVU alumni who are pursuing the same paths and different paths. No matter where I go, I’m always meeting other Mountaineers.”
To learn more about the ACCA visit: http://www.accawv.org/