Boise Places Worth Seeing

World Center for Birds of Prey - Yes, They Have Large Talons

If you like birds with curved beaks and a taste for meat, the World Center for Birds of Prey is the perfect spot to spend some time. Situated atop the low hills south of Boise, the Center is a quick 6 mile jaunt from the Costco/Edwards Cinema area, and it has enough sights and educational opportunities to keep you and your impatient children captivated for at least ten minutes, assuming you all have ADD. If you don't, you can easily while away an entire afternoon there.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is the educational centerpiece of the Peregrine Fund, which is an organization started in 1970 at Cornell University. The purpose of the organization was to set up a captive breeding program to prevent the peregrine falcon from going extinct, which it ultimately succeeded in doing. Since then, the organization moved its world headquarters to Boise, and they've expanded their scope to include raptors of all types, including eagles, hawks, and condors. In recent years, the Center's captive breeding program, which takes place in an on-site facility not open to the public, has been heavily involved in raising Aplomada falcons and California condors for release into the wild.

The main educational facility on the site is the Thelma Morrison Interpretive Center. The Peregrine Fund decided to name the interpretive center after her because the Morrisons donated a buttload of money to the fund, and because having the family name on Ann Morrison Park, the Morrison Center, and the Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center didn't seem like enough. Seriously, if a major project in Boise doesn't have some financial ties to either the Morrisons, the Albertsons, or the Simplots, it's because the project managers didn't solicit the right people.

The interpretive center has exhibits, videos, hands-on activities, and a lot more, making it perfect for kids. It's easy to learn about and compare scores of different raptors using photos, skeletons, plumage, and egg displays. You can also learn about migration patterns, the art of falconry, and how the chemical DDT caused raptor populations to decline to seriously low levels before the chemical was banned in 1972. If it involves birds of prey, the interpretive center has it.

For many folks, the highlight of the Morrison Interpretive Center is the live bird displays at the back of the building. There you can walk down a long hallway and peek through glass windows into a series of rooms, each of which has a different exotic bird of prey. If you can get over the fact that the corridor and the small glass windows just might be eerily similar to watching a peep show in a San Francisco house of ill repute, the viewing stations offer an excellent chance to see birds such as a harpy eagle or gyrfalcon up close, although for some reason you'll still have iron bars impeding your view. I guess these raptors are adept at breaking thick glass windows.

You'll find more live birds outside, along the walkway at the center of the site. These are birds you've probably seen before, such as a bald eagle and peregrine falcon. This area also features a gift shop and a nice grassy lawn where, if you're lucky, you can watch a live bird demonstration by a Center volunteer. A stream with koi fish is nearby, as is a nice semi-secluded garden spot where you can sit and contemplate a cool piece of art that features a raptor carrying off a large snake.

The newest and perhaps most impressive exhibit is the Condor Cliffs exhibit, which features the only two live California condors on display in North America outside of California. This outdoor exhibit contains a tall perch and a cliff habitat, and the entire display is surrounded by stainless steel mesh to keep the condors from attacking your little children. Actually, I'm kidding about that. Condors only eat carrion, so they would only attack your children if the harpy eagles got to them first. The folks at the Center say the rectangular shape of the condor enclosure allows the birds to properly stretch their 9 1/2 foot wingspan and fly, but you'll have to judge for yourself whether gliding the 25 feet from the perch to the cliff is actually flying.

After you finish looking around the site, make sure you walk across the parking lot and take a gander at the Boise valley. The Center's location at the top of a hill provides a vantage of Boise and the foothills that you rarely get. You can also look down at the airport and see birds of a different kind coming and going.

Place worth seeing: World Center for Birds of Prey
Where: 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise
(Just take Cole all the way south until it ends.)

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Hours: Summer (March-October): 9-5 daily
Winter (November-February): 10-4 Tuesday through Sunday
Cost: General: $7
Seniors (62+): $6
Youth (4-16): $5
Kids under 4: Free
Website: World Center for Birds of Prey
Fun fact: Unlike the chickens in Napoleon Dynamite, these birds really do have large talons.