Organizations: Bubba and Friends

Around Christmas, a gunshot wound broke the bald eagle’s wing, so his caregivers named him “Buckshot.” They painstakingly treated the injury and recently released the bird back into the wild.

“He started soaring on those thermals, heading due east, where he was from, and there was no doubt he was fine,” says Steve Hicks, a master falconer and director of Bubba and Friends, a Zebulon-based nonprofit that recovers, rehabilitates and releases injured and orphaned birds of prey. Among the group’s other patients: ospreys, hawks, vultures and numerous owls, including a long-eared owl – “looks like a Looney Tunes character,” Hicks says – which normally does not venture into Georgia airspace.

The organization, named for Bubba, a red-tailed hawk so damaged that he could not be released but could serve as an “educational ambassador,” started saving birds in the late 1980s and officially incorporated in 1995. It extracts the wounded from barns, barbwire and highway collisions all over the mid-state, under permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Depart-ment of Natural Resources.

“We have a hardcore group of volunteers who run the gamut from rednecks to treehuggers, and we’re all united by our love for these birds,” Hicks says.

This spring has been challenging because the unusually cold winter ramped up the raptors’ appetites. “They don’t have a mechanism to regulate their body temperature, so we’ve doubled up on feedings, which gets expensive,” Hicks says.

Bubba and Friends works with more than 100 birds a year that require about 50 mice every day. “These birds are part of our heritage,” Hicks says. “If we don’t help them and put them back out there, who will?”

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