The center is home to seven birds, which are used for educational programs.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LAKE MILTON -- Some children enjoy video games; others, comic books.
For Aimee Pico, it was birds.
"My mother used to yell at me for bringing the birds home," she said. "You can't hide a bird for too long without your mother finding out."
Unlike other children, however, Pico never outgrew her childhood hobby. At 25, she's a bird educator and president of the Lake Milton Raptor Education Center.
"I've always just been fascinated by birds," she said. "When I was 10 years old, that was the first thing I had."
Pico has seven birds at the center, which she uses for educational presentations at schools and community events. The birds include a Great Horned Owl, a Red-Tailed Hawk, an American Kestrel, and a curious Mallard duck that likes to snip at visitors' shoelaces.
The Mallard and some of the other birds at the center had once been pets. Pico noted that some people buy young ducks and chickens as pets during the Easter season.
Those people, however, often end up with more than they bargained for when the young bird grows up. They then drop the duck off at the center, Pico said.
"Like a duck, people think 'It's so cute, we'll keep them in the house,'" she said. "A regular domestic duck is 6 pounds."
Some of the other birds at the center have been injured and are not able to hunt and eat without assistance. The owl lost a wing when it hit a car, and the hawk has impaired vision.
The injured birds were treated at animal rehabilitation centers. Pico added that before opening the education center in December, she worked at a rehabilitation center in Stark County.
She said she decided to open the center after learning that the birds were killed if they weren't adopted.
The center, located on a small corner of a large yard near Lake Milton, includes three plywood cages that are about 8 feet tall and covered by mesh. The owl and the Kestrel live in the cages.
Pico's husband, Matt, built the cages.
The hawk lives in a larger plywood cage that is attached to a mesh-covered flying area. The center also has several small cages for rabbits, mice and baby ducks and chicks, a kiddie pool for the Mallard, and three perches.
The larger birds can be taken out of the cages and placed on the perches, with their legs tethered to the iron so they do not fly away.
Pico has state and federal permits that allow her to keep the birds.
Her typical day begins at about 6 a.m., when she feeds the birds and checks their health. Some of the birds eat rabbits and mice that Pico raises to slaughter in her garage.
The owl can eat as many as eight mice each day, she said.
Pico then goes to class at the University of Akron, where she is studying to be a zoologist. She said she plans to graduate next May.
At noon, Pico returns home, spends the rest of the afternoon working with the birds and making sure they are not too warm or too cold.
"This is a full-time job," she said.
It's also a costly hobby. Pico said she spends a total of $100 each month on food for the birds, and her veterinarian's bill for each bird is about $150 a year.
She had paid for the center using her husband's salary and donations she had collected at community events.
Recently, however, Pico's husband lost his job. She is seeking additional donations to keep the center running. She added that she wants to expand the facility so that students could visit and watch the birds in flight.
In the past, she's brought the birds into their classrooms.
If it's expanded, "they can come out here and do it and see more of the natural setting," Pico said.