Students help care for injured birds of prey at the Clinch River Raptor Center.

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(WBIR-Clinton) Over the last three decades about 600 students have learned about birds of prey hands on.

It happens on the Clinton Middle School campus in a collection of cages and a small workroom. The Clinch River Raptor Center houses birds of prey.

Students help care for inujured birds of prey. Emily Stroud and Kevin Umberger

"You get a close up view on the birds," Shantelle Bailey said.

Yes you do if you're a student volunteer like Shantelle.

"When you are here you are able to see in detail what they look like," she said.

Katie Cottrell is co-director of this rehabilitation center for birds of prey: owls, hawks, vultures, sometimes an eagle or two.

"Smaller cages for the birds that are just starting to fly. And then we have this cage for pre-release for when they're really flying better. We just feed them up and see what happens," Katie Cottrell said.

About 60% of the birds they care for are eventually released into the wild.

It is a hands on education for students. They literally feed the birds by hand. Their favorite meal? Mice.

Shantelle explained, "For most of the birds you put it on a stump so that they are able to see. For the red tailed hawks you have to wear a glove and you put the mouse in the glove and you hold your hand out so the hawk will land right here on your arm and you sit there and wait for them to eat."

The students usually start out hesitant to feed raptors. Garrett Long sure was. But when they make that decision...

"I didn't want to do it at first then I agreed to it. And I like it and I've been doing it pretty much every week since then," Garrett said.

Katie said, "They they go in and start feeding them and you can just see the confidence. It's very good. it makes them feel like they could do almost anything."

Garrett said, "It's not really that scary at all. It's really fun but you've just got to be careful what you do."

Shantelle described what it's like to have a hawk on her arm.

"It's heavy," she said.

Keeping records of how much the birds eat is another duty along with cleaning.

"You take tongs and you pick up the mouse leftovers and you go inside and you weigh them then you record it and then you take a water hose and spray the cages down," she said.

Garrett has gotten to know some of the birds and appreciates their personalities.

"Zeke because he's smaller and it's funny to see him do different things. And whenever you give his food he likes to talk to it," he said.

Katie can't say enough about the Clinch River Raptor Center and what she describes as the perfect job.

"I love the ability to be around these birds. I love working with the kids. It's just the best of everything," she said.

Garrett said, "You get to experience different things that you normally probably wouldn't get to do and you get to have fun doing it."

And you get to clean up mice.

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